June 19, 1865, commemorated in the title as "Juneteenth," was the date in Texas when Lincoln's General Orders, No.3 proclaiming emancipation of slaves was read at Galvaston, Texas, by Union Major-General Gordon Granger. The newly dubbed "Juneteenth" became a state and regional emancipation celebration, almost without interruption, until being made an official Texas holiday in 1980. Juneteenth is about freedom. Ann Rinaldi's story is about truth and freedom.
Luli Holcomb is born three years after her mother takes possession of a black baby girl who, through possession, becomes her slave. Although Mrs. Holcomb raises the baby, named Rose but called Sis Goose, as a child of the family, Rose is a slave. She was born to a slave mother who dies shortly after giving birth. Her white riverboat captain father doesn't want anything to do with her. What would he do with a daughter-slave? He gives her, a slave, to Luli Holcomb's aunt who immediately gives her to Luli's mother. Her father, mother, elder brother Gabe and Luli all keep the secret that Rose is really a slave and all act toward her as though she were exactly one of the family.
Gabe and Luli fall in love and, as the result of an unguarded moment, Rose is bearing Gabe's child. Gabe enlists in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy and is sent to fight local Indian tribes, not Union soldiers. At the end of the hot summer, all the slaves in Texas will be needed to bring in the harvest, but one day a journeyer claims Lincoln has set all the slaves free. All the ranchers in Texas have agreed to denounce this as a rumor and a lie so they can get their harvests in and avoid being slaughtered by vengeful slaves.
One day the Union army arrives in Texas led by Union Major-General Gordon Granger. Troops announce to the Holcomb ranch that the slaves have been emancipated. Now Sis Goose (a symbolically important family name) finds out the truth: she is a slave, her family have lied to her about the emancipation, and she is now free. The Union soldiers requisition the Holcomb house. Sis Goose takes an angry liking to the leader. He and she leave together. Gabe and Luli go after them to bring Sis Goose back. Gabe does not know Rose bears his child.