Juneteenth – What is it, and should it be celebrated?

posted in: Life, Rants & Raves | 0
The Juneteenth flag, which commemorates the day that slavery ended in the US. Image Source: CNN.com

Good day, I hope this finds you all well.  Yesterday my cat and I were discussing an article in our local paper, declaring June 19th a state holiday, a day called “Juneteenth.”  Recently, the Governor of Virginia declared June 19th a state holiday; Juneteenth day. 

Say what? Is this just another poor excuse for state employees to have another day off?  Nope, it is real.  It sounds silly, but it has a very real, and serious history.  Juneteenth is a celebration, much like the 4th of July.  The fourth of July celebrates this great land, and it IS a great land, our representative Republic may have some blemishes, and it may not be perfect, but I urge you to find a better land.  The founders of this great land were human, and they had faults, but the ideals they held to be true, really do provide a foundation for a wonderful land, can we live up to our responsibilities as citizens of this land? 

So, what does this have to do with Juneteenth?  Everything.  When our country won its freedom from Britain, not every human being existed outside of bondage.  There were millions in bondage (roughly 4 million at the start of the Civil War) throughout the country.  After America won its freedom, the founding fathers of our fragile democracy kicked the issue of Slavery “down the road” in the Compromise of 1787, and agreed NOT to make any decision on slavery for 20 years (1807).  In 1807 Slavery was outlawed on both sides of the Atlantic with the passing of the “Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.” Congress quickly banned the slave trade in 1808.

Well I hear you asking, didn’t the Emancipation Act free all the slaves?  No.  The freeing of slaves (read fellow human beings) in the United States was accomplished in three distinct steps:

  1. The District of Columbia Emancipation Act – Signed in April 1862, immediately freed the roughly 3,000 slaves in Washington D.C.
  2. The Emancipation Proclamation – President Lincoln first threatened the Confederate States with it in September 1862, and when they failed to surrender, signed it into law on January 1st, 1863.  President Lincoln saw this as a military necessity, and as such this proclamation did not free slaves in the states and territories outside of the rebel Confederate states.  Slaves remained in bondage in many border states and the western territories.
  3. The 13th Amendment – Passed by both houses in January, 1865.  The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States and immediately freed all in bondage. President Lincoln viewed its passage as his greatest achievement.

My cat was quick to point out to me, and correctly, that as of yet, nothing of significance had happened on June 19th.  So, what gives?

It was on June 19th, 1865, that Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, TX.  They landed and informed “the people of Texas” that the war was over, and that all slaves were now free.  With that, the 250,000 slaves in Texas were freed, and Juneteenth was born.  The relationship was supposed to go from one of bondage to one of employer and employee; but life rarely works that way.

As we all know, and is well documented, Lincoln’s dream of reconstruction died with him.  His successor was less than willing to intervene in the internal workings of the states, and that gave raise to the now infamous “Jim Crow” laws that were passed throughout the southern states to prevent black-Americans their rights granted to them in the Constitution and the newly passed 13th Amendment.

Juneteenth celebrates the freedom from bondage of those in the last bastion of slavery.  When our country was founded, Slavery was a dying institution, but it wasn’t for another 90 years until this stain on our great land could be washed away, but instead, southern society enacted various laws to prevent this stain from being washed away and continued to deprive others of their humanity.  It took another 100 years for Congress to stamp out discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex or national origin. 

Even with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the rejection of Jim Crow laws, racism and overt acts of violence persist.  As Rodney King once said, “Can’t we all just get along!” In the forward of the “Green Book,” there is a paragraph from the introduction which reads…

“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.”

The Green Book: The Black Travelers Guide to Jim Crow America.

They stopped publishing the green book after the Civil Rights Act was passed, maybe someday we can live up to it. You and I both know that while the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination; human beings are what they are.  Racism continues to plague this great land, but it is not one way, racism goes both ways.  As long as these archaic behaviors are allowed, our land will be stained. Racism is a LEARNED behavior.

So, should Juneteenth be celebrated, you bet your bahooty it should be. As far as I’m concerned, it should be a federal holiday. It is a bright spot in our nation’s history, when we, as a country did the right thing, and pursued the ideal that “all men are created equal.” Juneteen and July fourth celebrtions complete our nation’s independence, where all are free. They are complementary to one another, not in opposition.

There is a cool quote I heard while doing the research for my little rant today: “There is more difference between two different class of fruit flies than two races of human beings.” – Rhiannon Giddens.

The issue of slavery is not isolated to the United States, I encourage you to read more on the history of slavery on History World and History Hub. I encourage you to visit Juneteenth.com. What say you? Did I miss the boat on this one?

My References include:

WDJT TV, Milwaukee, WI: The Juneteenth flag is full of symbols.  https://www.cbs58.com/news/the-juneteenth-flag-is-full-of-symbols-heres-what-they-mean

ABC7 News, San Francisco, CA: Juneteenth facts: Here’s why it’s so important and why it’s called that.  https://abc7news.com/why-is-juneteenth-so-important-the-roots-facts-today/6255214/

History Channel: Jim Crow Laws: Definition, Facts & Timelines.  https://www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/jim-crow-laws

History Channel: Reconstruction – Civil War End, Changes & Act 1867.  https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/reconstruction

History Channel: Freedmen’s Bureau History.  https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/freedmens-bureau

History Channel: The Green Book: The Black Travelers Guide to Jim Crow America.  https://www.history.com/news/the-green-book-the-black-travelers-guide-to-jim-crow-america

National Archives – The District of Columbia Emancipation Act.  https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/dc-emancipation-act

History Channel: Emancipation Proclamation: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/emancipation-proclamation

History World: History of Slavery (article incomplete):  http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/plaintexthistories.asp?historyid=ac41

Reuters: CHRONOLOGY-Who banned slavery when? https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-slavery/chronology-who-banned-slavery-when-idUSL1561464920070322#:~:text=1807%20%2D%20Britain%20passes%20Abolition%20of,outlawing%20British%20Atlantic%20slave%20trade.

History Hub: Chapter 15- Slavery.  http://sites.austincc.edu/caddis/slavery/

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