Today in History: Juneteenth

“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”—a proclamation read by Major General Gordon Granger at Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865

Today is Juneteenth, the celebration of the abolition of slavery in the United States, first celebrated in Texas on this date in 1865. It is officially recognized as a holiday till this day in most but not all of the United States.

Of course, June 19, 1865, was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. There are many theories as to why it took so long for the proclamation to be announced to slaves who technically, legally, and factually, had been free for the previous two and half years. One legend is that a messenger (never named in the stories) was murdered on his way to Texas with the emancipation news.

The announcement came on June 19, 1865, with troops, and there the difference lay. Even if slave-holders knew that Lincoln had freed their slaves, the Union was not seen in Texas until General Granger’s forces arrived.

The former slaves in Galveston celebrated, and each year on this date the celebrations became commemorations at which Lincoln’s words were read and community picnics held.

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A new play, The Rocky Horror Show, by Richard O’Brien opened in the 63-seat Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court on this date in 1973. Tim Curry, O’Brien, Nell Campbell, and Patricia Quinn, who each appeared in the later film version, were already in the cast.

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Len Bias died 30 years ago today. Two days after he had been selected second overall in the 1986 NBA draft (Brad Daugherty was selected ahead of him) by the Boston Celtics, he died of a heart attack caused by a cocaine overdose. He was 22.

Manute Bol died six years ago today. James Gandolfini died three years ago today.

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Moe Howard was born on this date in 1897. Lou Gehrig was born in 1903 on this date. Pauline Kael was born on this date in 1919. Nick Drake was born on this date in 1948.

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Garfield the Cat is 38 years old today.

Gena Rowlands is 86 today. Aung San Suu Kyi is 71. Greil Marcus is 71 today. Tobias Wolff is 71. Sir Salman Rushdie is 69. Phylicia Rashad is 68. Ann Wilson is 66. Kathleen Turner is 62. Paula Abdul is 54.

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