'Juneteenth' Marks Day Slaves In Texas Were Told They Were Free After the Emancipation Proclamation, some slave owners kept the news from their slaves. In a 1941 recording, a former slave recalls June 19, 1865, when slaves in Texas were told they were free.
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'Juneteenth' Marks Day Slaves In Texas Were Told They Were Free

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'Juneteenth' Marks Day Slaves In Texas Were Told They Were Free

'Juneteenth' Marks Day Slaves In Texas Were Told They Were Free

'Juneteenth' Marks Day Slaves In Texas Were Told They Were Free

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/415809476/415809477" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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After the Emancipation Proclamation, some slave owners kept the news from their slaves. In a 1941 recording, a former slave recalls June 19, 1865, when slaves in Texas were told they were free.

"Voices from the Days of Slavery" is an online exhibition at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress. This story was brought to us by Hearing-Voices producer Barrett Golding.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today is Juneteenth, the holiday that marks what happened in Texas on June 19, 1865. Slaveowners in the state had kept news of the Emancipation Proclamation, issued two years earlier, from their slaves. And on this day 150 years ago, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with 2000 troops and a message - slaves were free. Laura Smalley, born into slavery in Texas, was a child when it happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAURA SMALLEY: We didn't know where to go. Mom and them didn't know where to go. You see, after freedom broke, they started just, like, to turn some of them out, you know? We didn't know where to go. They turned us out just like, you know, you turn out cattle (laughter), I'd say.

BLOCK: They didn't know where to go after freedom broke, she says - turned us out, just like you turn out cattle. Smalley recalled this in 1941, in Hempstead, Texas. She was interviewed by John Henry Faulk - that interview now preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. She told Faulk that before June 19, the slaves of the plantation she lived on didn't know slavery had been abolished after the Civil War.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SMALLEY: You know, and the old master didn't tell no one they was free.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: He didn't tell you that?

SMALLEY: No, he didn't tell. They went there and turned them loose on the 19 of June. That's why, you know, we celebrate that day - colored folks celebrates that day - celebrates that day.

BLOCK: That's Laura Smalley speaking in 1941 about her memories of Juneteenth, the day 150 years ago that slaves in Texas were granted their freedom, more than two years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

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