A Juneteenth reflection, our story, and commemoration

June 18, 2021

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
General Order Number 3, Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston

Each year on June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the reading of federal orders on June 19, 1865 by Union General Gordon Granger declaring the end of legal slavery in Texas. At that time, slavers had refused to grant freedom to those enslaved. Granger’s arrival with 1,800 bluecoats was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and more than two months after the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox Court House.

Formally celebrated by African-Americans since 1866, 47 states (including Pennsylvania) and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday or observance. And just this week, U.S. Congress overwhelmingly voted in favor of establishing Juneteenth as the country’s 12th federal holiday—ensuring its annual observance upon President Biden officially signing the bill into law.

Abolitionism in Belfield

As the Philadelphia region and nation honors and celebrates Juneteenth, it’s important to call attention to the historical significance of Belfield, La Salle University’s neighborhood, as home to members of the abolitionist movement. Indeed, abolitionists lived on parcels of what is today La Salle’s campus.

Generations of the Wister family resided at Belfield, at what is now known as Peale House, as well as other homes that once stood on what is now La Salle University’s campus.

Many members of the Wister family were involved in the abolition movement and fought doggedly to end slavery in the United States. For example, Sarah Logan Fisher Wister and her husband, William Wister, resided at Belfield beginning in the 1820s. There is strong family tradition that Sarah, a formidable Quaker presence, was active in the Underground Railroad, helping shepherd enslaved people to freedom. Despite her Quaker heritage, all of Sarah’s six sons fought in the Civil War. Learn more about the Wister sons through La Salle’s Digital Commons.

Sarah Tyler Boas Wister and John Wister, who resided at Belfield in the late 1800s and early 1900s, hosted prominent abolitionists at their home. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, visited Belfield with her twin daughters. Dr. William Henry Furness, the outspoken Philadelphia anti-slavery minister, was also among the Wisters’ guests. Abolitionists Julia Ward Howe (author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic) and Sara Jane Clarke Lippincott journeyed to Belfield to dine with the Wisters. Evidence of these visits can be found on an embroidered table scarf contained in La Salle’s Special Collections. The Wister family used this scarf as a guest book for Belfield—visitors signed the cloth and a family member then embroidered the signatures. View an image of the scarf and learn more about the visitors to Belfield.

Above, you will note a compelling illustration in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Register of the Centennial Exposition, published in 1876. This book can be found in the University’s Special Collections. The illustration portrays “The Statue of the ‘Freed Slave’”, a sculpture commissioned for the 1876 World’s Fair held in Philadelphia. The sculpture commemorated the end of slavery in the United States.

Commemorating Juneteenth
There are a number of local celebrations and commemorations of Juneteenth as a day of remembrance and liberation. Consult this list of events for more information: