On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation put an end to slavery in the United States, but it took time for the news to advance. The state of Texas, for example, did not know anything about it until two years later, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865–after the War–and announced the news to the enslaved people there.
According to History.com, “The day instantly became an important one to the African American citizens of Texas, who held annual celebrations and even made pilgrimages to Galveston each Juneteenth.”
In no time, festivities proliferated throughout the nation; now, forty-seven states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, but Texas was the first to decree annual observance of June 19th in 1979.
For more information about Juneteenth, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends books such as The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.
Benjamin Franklin, the Continental Congress’s envoy to France, was not enthusiastic about having 19-year-old Marquis de Lafayette volunteer his military expertise to the colonial revolutionary forces two years into the War. Nevertheless, Lafayette, whose full name was Marie-Joseph Paul Roch Yves Gilbert du Motier, made the difficult journey, and arrived in South Carolina on June 13, 1777. He hoped to be General George Washington’s second in command. Though his youth might have been an issue when he made his case to Congress, the Marquis’ offer of service was accepted by Washington, and he was commissioned as a Major-General.
Lafayette served with distinction in numerous battles, but in February 1778 when France and the American Revolutionary forces signed a formal treaty of alliance, it set off a declaration of war between France and Britain. By the time Lafayette returned to France, he had proven himself in battle, his loyalty to the American cause, and Benjamin Franklin admitted the Marquis had demonstrated his worth.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends is Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.
“Henry Flipper did all his country asked him to do.” President Bill Clinton said of Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African American graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Life was not easy for him. He was born into slavery in Thomasville, Georgia, in 1856; after he completed his studies on June 14, 1877, he wrote his autobiography, which revealed the cruel treatment he had received at West Point.
According to History.com, Flipper recalled how “he was socially ostracized by white peers and professors.”
After commencement, Flipper served as a second lieutenant in the African American 10th Cavalry Regiment, known as the Buffalo Soldiers of Fort Sill, Oklahoma; there, he distinguished himself with his engineering prowess; as a matter of fact, a drainage system designed by him is listed as a National Historic Landmark. It’s known as “Flipper’s Ditch.”
His career was halted when he was brought up on charges of stealing government money, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. A court martial acknowledged his innocence of the embezzlement charge but found him guilty of the conduct accusations for which he was dishonorably discharged. Although Flipper had a “distinguished career” as a civilian engineer, he never reconciled the humiliating event.
The Army overturned his “dishonorable” status in 1976—thirty-six years after his death, and in 1999, President Clinton granted Flipper a full posthumous pardon.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Henry Ossian Flipper’s West Point autobiography, The Colored Cadet at West Point and Jane Eppinga’s Henry Ossian Flipper: West Point’s First Black Graduate.
History Matters is a biweekly feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize.