GENERAL ORDER, No. 3. – “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, become that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
As we prepare for the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, I would like to take a closer look at General Order No. 3 issued by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger. Everyone recognizes this as the general order that freed the enslaved men, women and children of Texas on June 19, 1865.
Attorney Fay Williams pointed out and educated me several years ago that there were actually five orders issued that day. Former Galveston Historical Foundation African American Heritage Committee Chair Hank Thierry pointed out the use of the two words “absolute equality” by Granger.
Those are very important matters with relation to the discussion of Juneteenth and freedom. I would like to point out another key part of the order that I rarely hear anyone talk about in the last part of General Order No. 3.
The freedmen are advised to remain quietly and work for wages. They are also informed that they will not be allowed to gather at military posts and that they would not be supported in idleness.
I am not writing to argue which general order was most important, or which words used are most important, but to examine what those last few sentences meant to the former enslaved people.
The Settlement Community of Texas City established in 1867 is a great example of the best situation after slavery. It is a story of a once thriving community of former enslaved people that we should share nationally.
Every Galveston County teacher teaching Texas history and Reconstruction should plan a field trip to The Settlement community to teach and learn how the former enslaved people did exactly as General Granger advised them in General Order No. 3.
The former enslaved people valued their freedom. They used the skills they had developed while enslaved to build a community that would leave a legacy for generations that followed.
All across Texas and the country you can find examples of how former enslaved people improved their lives by buying land, building homes, businesses, schools, churches, colleges and universities.
How did those former enslaved people negotiate contracts for land and employment with limited or no education? How was life better or worse for them and their former masters? Did General Granger’s words “absolute equality” really mean equality?
Over the next six to nine months as we look back over the 150 years since slavery ended, the above questions and more need to be discussed.