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A Juneteenth Legacy: Shove-Off Day From Virginia

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By New Journal and Guide Staff


The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) in partnership with the National Park Service hosted the second “Shove Off Day” at City Point in Hopewell, Virginia on May 25.

Last year, the National Park Service hosted the first “Shove Off Day,” bringing widespread national attention for the first time to the role of Virginia in the storied history that surrounds Juneteenth.

This year, a bigger “Shove Off Day” celebration took place that was witnessed by many, including a busload of guests from Hampton Roads sponsored by the Chesapeake Juneteenth Foundation, founded by Ernest Lowery.

Included in the 2024 activities were a Juneteenth Flag Raising Ceremony performed by U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) reenactors from several states; guest speakers sharing the USCT’s stories; and Tours of City Point and Appomattox Plantation where Union Gen. Ulysses Grant set up headquarters during the concluding days of the Civil War.

Among guest speakers were Virginia’s Lt. Governor Winsome Sears; Steve Williams, the National President of the NJOF; and Calvin Pearson of Hampton and founder of Project 1619, Inc.

Exactly what is “Shove-Off Day” and why was it an important untold piece of Black History until recently?

“Shove Off Day is just one of the many stories that make up the legacy and the full glory of Emancipation and the effect on all that share this land and beyond,” the NJOF said in its press material.


On May 25, 1865, several thousand Union soldiers having served during the Civil War departed (shoved-off) from the shores of the converging James and Appomattox Rivers at City Point, Va. (now Hopewell) where the May 25th ceremony was held. Their purpose was to close out the Civil War, liberate the Black population, and execute a secret mission on the US/Mexico border to defend the United States from Emperor Maxmilian. Included in their ranks were several regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) who had fought valiantly for the Union during the Civil War.

When their ship ran into a storm in the Gulf of Mexico, they were forced to land at Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. What they found there was a population of Black people still being held in bondage despite having gained their freedom with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War..

According to USCT historian Darron Charles Overby of Washington, D.C., who spoke during the May 25 Shove-Off Day observance, the bonded Black men and women knew they had been set free but were disempowered and not equipped to act in their own defense. The arrival of the U.S. Colored Troops who intervened on their behalf made enforcement of the federal law and their freedom possible.

More than 4,000 USCT soldiers were on the island that June 19th day and were present and equipped to enforce the news of freedom they delivered to those still enslaved.  General Order #3 by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and signed by F.W. Emery was posted on the door of the Colored Church (present-day Reedy Chapel) informing them of their “Absolute Equality.”

What resulted  led to the observance named Juneteenth (June 19th) which is today a federal holiday.

Over the years, history has marked June 19th as the African-American Emancipation Day. Today, the official handwritten General Order #3 is preserved at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

Juneteenth’s annual observance has spread across the United States and beyond. It became an official federal holiday in 2021 and is observed by most U.S. states.

“Shove Off Day” is now part of the official Juneteenth calendar for The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) which advocated more than 25 years for the recognition of Juneteenth before the signing of the federal holiday legislation in 2021.

The observance was free and open to the public.

General Order No. 3

Posted on the door of the Colored Church (present day Reedy Chapel) in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865.

The people 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, become that between employer and hired labor. The freed are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.


By order of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger
Signed F.W Emery
Major A.A. Genl

The official handwritten record of General Order No. 3, is preserved at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

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