On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops. The following day, June 19, 1865, General Granger publicly read “General Order No. 3” announcing the total emancipation of slaves pursuant to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

This completed the final legal emancipation of all slaves in the areas covered by the terms of that proclamation, namely

the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)].

It is frequently asserted that the Emancipation Proclamation freed no slaves. This is demonstrably false. The New York Herald and the New York Times reported on the January 1, 1863 celebration of thousands of emancipated slaves in Hilton Head, South Carolina and Port Royal, South Carolina respectively as a result of the Proclamation. One contemporary account estimated that up to 20,000 slaves were emancipated on the first day of the proclamation going into effect. And slaves were continually emancipated thereafter for the remainder of the war, as the Union soldiers advanced into the territories covered by its terms.

Booker T. Washington, then aged 9, remembered the day in early 1865 when the emancipation was effected where he lived in Virginia:

As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom. … Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.

And, so, on June 19, 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in Texas, with General Granger’s reading of “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 becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly 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.