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Press Release

U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman’s statement commemorating Juneteenth

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Ohio

On this day in 1865, Major General Gordon Granger led his Union troops to Galveston, Texas, with this purpose – to formally and finally deliver news that the Civil War had ended and that all enslaved people were free. As part of this announcement, General Granger read General Order Number 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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them that becomes that between employer and hired laborer.” With those few legalistic words, the last bonds of slavery were slipped in the United States.

The date we now honor with Juneteenth came two months after the formal cessation of hostilities in the Civil War, and more than two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was first issued. Yet it is important because it marks the historical date on which the original promise of freedom, as embodied in our American Revolution, was extended to those who had been excluded from birth – both their individual births and the birth of the United States.

Importantly, though, June 19, 1865, was not the end of guaranteeing the promise of freedom for all Americans. The Department of Justice was created almost exactly five years later, during the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant, to help guarantee the “absolute equality of rights” of all persons, as recognized in General Order Number 3. In fact, the Department’s first order of business was to prosecute members of the Ku Klux Klan who were engaged in a campaign of terror directed against newly-freed slaves across the South. I like to say that our DOJ was born fighting, and that fight has never ceased in the ensuing 150 years.
As men and women of the Justice Department, it is important for us to take a moment today to remind ourselves why we have chosen to work here. The Department of Justice is the only cabinet-level agency named for a moral virtue – Justice -- and that is what we seek, what we obtain, and what we are committed to preserving.
Juneteenth this year is different. We are all witnessing a righteous public outcry against not just unacceptable individual acts of police brutality, but longstanding societal unfairness that still, after 155 years, has not been fully redressed. As members of the Department of Justice who are proudly tasked with carrying forward a grand tradition of upholding the equal rights of all persons, we are in a unique – and I would say, fortunate – position at this time in American history. Although the absolute equality of rights for all has not yet been experienced in this country, this does not mean that it will not ever happen. If it is to happen, and I believe that it will, the Department of Justice will play an important role. For as long as we continue to have men and women who step forward to join this great institution, we are all guaranteed a Department of Justice that will pursue America’s long-sought, collective moral virtue.

Juneteenth is a celebration. It is a day of freedom – that was long overdue – and we should all remember and acknowledge it as such.

-Justin E. Herdman, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio

Updated June 19, 2020

Civil Rights