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How Black Union troops were "the fathers of Juneteenth"

Thousands of Black men called the "fathers of Juneteenth"
Thousands of Black men called the "fathers of Juneteenth" 02:02

MINNEAPOLIS -- As we commemorate Juneteenth, the first as a federal holiday, historians are asking people not to forget the true fathers of the holiday.

Two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free.

As Reg Chapman reports, it was thousands of Black troops who delivered that message, and their actions to save the Union should also be celebrated during Juneteenth.

Lee Henry Jordan began working with Juneteenth in Minnesota back in 1985. He is now the Midwest State Director for National Juneteenth.

"You have a legacy that's been handed down to you. Take a minute out to find that out," Jordan said. "We have a story to tell."

Through re-enactments and his lectures on Juneteenth, Jordan loves to point out how Colored troops, as they were called back then, played a big role in the history of the holiday.

"With Frederick Douglas speaking to Abraham Lincoln saying, 'Look, if you want to win this war you need to get the freedman involved, runaways slaves and anyone else who believe in this cause," Jordan said.

Recruited and trained at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, these freedman and ex-slaves enlisted in 19 Black troop regiments. They eventually gained their freedom by fighting in the Union Army.


Thousands would be on hand in Galveston, Texas, when General Order Number Three was issued, advising the people of the state that all slaves were free.

"We had over 10,000 U.S. Colored troops in Galveston, Texas, here to help tell that story, so they truly are the fathers of Juneteenth," Jordan said.

Jordan would like to see a generation of Americans engage with our nation's past. Juneteenth is not African American history -- it's American history. And Jordan believes the faster we all engage and educate ourselves, the stronger our nation will be.

"So when we say 'All things Juneteenth,' we really mean it, because you can look at that history and follow the line," he said.

At one time, more than 200,000 Black Soldiers served during the Civil War.

President Lincoln said, "Without the Military help of Black Freedman, the war against the South could not have been won."

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