The day was June 19, 1865.
The Civil War had officially ended two months earlier, when General Lee surrendered to the North at Appomattox. But without TV, phones, or the Internet, news of the war’s end traveled slower than molasses. Because Texas was the westernmost Confederate state, it got news last of all. The Union finally had to send two thousand troops to the Lone Star State, led by Major General Gordon Granger, to announce some rather important news.
The general’s first order of business? Tell everyone in Galveston, Texas, “Hey y’all, the war’s over–oh, and you guys lost.” Then in hot, humid weather typical for the Gulf of Mexico, General Granger prepared to read the next order of business: “General Orders, 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.
In other words, your slaves are free, and if you want them to work for you, you’re going to have to pay them. Two hundred and fifty thousand slaves in Texas–men, women, and children who had spent their lives in bondage–suddenly heard that they were free. Can you imagine the shock? The bewilderment? The giddy whoops and hollers? Can you picture the pain-weathered faces of a dad, daughter, grandpa, or cousin as news of their freedom swept over them?
What you don’t know can hurt you.
It’s hard to imagine that anything could have spoiled the exciting news, but General Granger’s announcement was indeed bittersweet. A grim truth was hidden between the lines of “General Orders, No. 3.” Those slaves soon found out that President Lincoln had declared them free two and a half years earlier.
When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he abolished slavery. But of course that news hadn’t traveled to Confederate-controlled states such as Texas. So men, women, and children just kept right on serving their illegal masters–picking cotton, cleaning house, chopping wood, and caring for their masters’ families–because they didn’t know the truth about their independence. Lincoln’s declaration of freedom had no power over those who didn’t know they had been freed. They just went right on being slaves.
Can you imagine finding out that you had just spent 30 months of your life serving a–perhaps very cruel–master when you didn’t even have to? When it wasn’t even legal? Man. I have to admit I’d probably be fighting some resentment. I’d probably be wondering, why didn’t anyone come tell us? How could no one feel this was important enough to cross enemy lines to let us know?
Well, there’s something I need you to know, something important enough for me to cross enemy lines to tell you.
You are free indeed.
If you’re a silent sufferer and you’ve given your life to God, the grim truth is that you’re slaving away for an illegal master. The King declared you free when Jesus took your sin and nailed it with Him to a cross.
Have you been serving the wrong master? Have you spent too much time doing backbreaking labor trying to fix yourself but just keep sinking deeper into sin? Read the truth in Romans 6, where Paul proclaims freedom to those who have no idea they are already free.
By Jessie Minassian, from Unashamed