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Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom.
Juneteenth- 150 Years Young
Juneteenth honors the official end of slavery in the United States of America (U.S.A.) and its territories. Juneteenth is the oldest known observance that celebrates this historical event. Today, Juneteenth is designated as a commemorative observance holiday or legal holiday in the District of Columbia and 43 of the nation’s 50 states. nationaljuneteenth.com Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah are the remaining states that do not observe Juneteenth as a holiday.
Juneteenth was first awarded holiday status by the state of Texas effective the 1980 calendar year. However, pockets of people within the nation’s African-American community have acknowledged Juneteenth since its inception in 1865. Currently, participants across the globe partake in the liberation gala. The arrival of Juneteenth in 2015 marked its 150th anniversary.
June & 19- Juneteenth
The Emancipation Proclamation lay at the heart of all things Juneteenth. The hallowed directive was already a late arrival upon the American scene. The President, Abraham Lincoln, issued the Emancipation Proclamation via an executive order in September 1862 and signed it thus making it effective on January, 1 1863. archives.gov Emancipation Proclamation The actual emancipation of slaves in Texas took even longer. The lofty edict could not be enforced in Texas until nearly three years after it was written.
The Union Army’s conquest of Texas towards the end of America’s Civil War unleashed the rein of slavery there. General Gordon Granger announced General Order #3 in the island hamlet of Galveston, Texas on that fateful day. The military order liberated slaves as authorized by the dictates enumerated in the Emancipation Proclamation. The date associated with the Union’s victorious advance is June 19, 1865.The previously bound people welcomed the reprieve so much that they invented a new word. They merged the words June and nineteenth with an ingenious bit of indigenous vernacular to form the word juneteenth. timeanddate.com/holidays/us/Juneteenth, nationaljuneteenth.com
" Shaw at Fort Wagner
The Road to Emancipation
A bridge of nearly 250 years spanned the time from slavery’s arrival on the North American continent and the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery arrived in North America during the early 17th century via introduction to the Jamestown, VA settlement in the year 1619. Slavery continued to persist within the region known as the 13 original colonies that preceded America’s independence. It remained following the nation’s birth even as founders expressed lofty rhetoric about freedom and equality.
Abolitionist many of whom inspired by the gospel message followed the tenants of their faith and waged war against the ingrained institution from its onset. Slavery continued to provoke political and economic conflict within the country all the way up to its well-deserved demise. America of the 19th century was dominated by slavery’s insidious influence upon life in both the North and South. A series of pitched battles came about as the result of its impact on the American conscious. The sustained discord would eventually erupt into the Civil War. And, the Civil War would inevitably lead to the Emancipation Proclamation.
Key 19th Century Events that led to the Civil War
1808 The Slave Trade is Made Illegal
The Slave Trade Act of 1807 takes effect on the first day of the year. This law prohibited further importation of slaves to the United States and its territories. history.com
Map Missouri Compromise
1820 The Missouri Compromise
Missouri’s calendar year 1819 request for statehood as a slave state upset anti-slavery factions within Congress and the country as a whole. However, a compromise was reached. (thus the name) Missouri was allowed to enter as a slave state while Maine was created and made into a free state. It also included an imaginary latitude border line dividing north and south territories upon which the north would be free and the south slave holding. history.com
1834 The Farren Anti-Abolition Riots
A spate of riots erupted at multiple locations in New York City over the course of four days. The devastation that appeared to be caused by random mob action took on a very organized approach. Abolitionist, such as evangelist abolitionist Lewis Tappan and English actor George Farren, and their property was targeted for destruction. Likewise, African-Americans and their homes were destroyed. Philadelphia and Cincinnati among other places would later host similar anti-abolition riots and attacks upon African-Americans by working class whites who feared the potential job competition of an increased free black population. forgottenhistory.us The Farren riots foreshadowed the eerily similar “ draft riots” held in New York City over the course of five days in 1863.
1846-1848 The Mexican-American War
The United States, led by President James K. Polk, instigated a dispute with Mexico that led to war. Mexico outlawed slavery in 1824 after winning independence from Spain. The Mexican government and the then slave holding Republic of Texas engaged in ongoing disputes with the U.S. taking Texas side. Texas which was incorporated into statehood in 1845 was annexed to the United States. Furthermore, territory in what is currently the western part of the country was added as a conditions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war. history.com
1850 The Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 displayed democracy at its best. Congress managed to throw a bone to the hounds on both sides of the debate. They did this with five separate pieces of legislation related to the slavery issue with the following results:
- Texas lost their claim to the New Mexico territory but kept the Texas Panhandle and received funds.
- California was admitted as a free state
- The citizens of the Utah and New Mexico territories were allowed popular sovereignty. They could vote their choice as to whether to have slavery.
- The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was amended to give it more teeth. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 now required cooperation of federal officials of all states, free states included, with help in returning escaped slaves. en.wikipedia.org (/wiki/Compromise_of_1850) As a result, an official in free state Illinois would be required to help in the efforts to get a slave who escaped from slave state Missouri or else face severe consequences. en.wikipedia.org (/wiki/Compromise_of_1850)
- The slave trade was abolished in the nation’s capital but slavery itself remained.
1854 The Kansa-Nebraska Act
Kansas would eventually join the United States in 1861 after several southern states seceded from the Union. Nebraska would not join the U.S.A. until after the Civil War. The law allowed both states popular sovereignty with regard to slavery and erased the imaginary border line put in place by the Missouri Compromise. history.com
1857 The Dred Scott Decision
The Scott decision, (Scott v Sanford 60 U.S. 393) may well be the most notorious case in U.S. Supreme Court history. It engaged in far reaching conclusions about the Constitution that effectively declared an entire population of people unfit for citizenship. The decision basically called into question the humanity of the people involved.
The Court determined that with regard to black people descendants of Africans brought to the U.S. for slavery “…we think they are not, and they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word citizens in the constitution…” “ and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held power and the Government might choose to grant them.” 60 U.S. 393, 404-405 located on supreme.justia.com
As such, this would apply even to free black people regardless of what they might have contributed to the nation. John Brown and his adventures at Harpers Ferry would follow two years later.
The Emancipation Proclamation
The Emancipation Proclamation granted legal freedom to slaves located in Confederate regions. It provided the heretofore enslaved black populace the right to ownership by God and themselves only, free of interference from other men. Furthermore, it promised cooperation and protection from the U.S. military forces, both ground and sea, in maintaining that freedom. As such, U.S. law would no longer abide or promote keeping those named in slavery. archives.gov Emancipation Proclamation
Still, the Emancipation Proclamation had its limits. One such hindrance was its scope. The freedom granted to slaves was limited to those in Confederate allied areas. It did not apply to slaves in the so called border states. Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri were slave states that were not part of the Confederacy. The freedom mandate also failed to reach sections of Louisiana and Virginia who didn’t join their state in leaving the Union. archives.gov Emancipation Proclamation
The Emancipation Proclamation could be enforced only in those places with a substantial Union military presence. It is one thing to declare a law but it’s another to defend the enforcement of the law. As a result, this did not put an immediate end to all slavery practices within the country.
Yet, words are power, for that which is written and that which is spoken matter. A noted philosopher wrote in a widely acclaimed book that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Holy Bible Proverbs 18:21) The Emancipation Proclamation’s speech changed the Civil War from a regional based power play derived from cultural, political and economic differences into a sharply defined moral cause that would unite the Union. Its words laid the foundation for the enslaved populace to fully participate in the fight for their own liberation. The statement was made that the slavery past was finished and a free future would emerge on the horizon. The 13th Amendment which abolished slavery arrived shortly thereafter.
Statue of former state representative Al Edwards holding up copy of Texas Juneteenth law.
Juneteenth’s official name in Texas is “Emancipation Day in Texas.” The aptly named day is a state holiday in Texas whereby public offices may be closed for business. It shares this distinction with a select few other holidays, one of which ironically is Confederate Heroes Day. tsl.texas.gov Emancipation celebration as such is set aside on the Texan calendar.
The chain of events that would make Juneteenth official accelerated in 1979. Al Edwards, a Democrat from Houston sponsored H.B. 1016, a proposal to add Juneteenth to Texas holiday calendar. William “Bill” Clements, the Republican Governor at the time, signed the measure which became effective in 1980. utexas.edu/texasblackhistory
Texas observes Juneteenth on the actual date, June 19th, that the emancipating events occurred. However, most states including Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, three states that border Texas, reserve the third Saturday in June for their observances. Juneteenth’s official name also varies across state lines. Arkansas for instance refers to this as “Juneteenth Independence Day.” Oklahoma , on the other hand calls it “Juneteenth National Freedom Day.”
The end of slavery is a serious subject. To that end, Juneteenth commemorations often focus on African-Americans’ contributions, the awful injustices of the slavery past and other historical facts. However, this is a summer time American holiday. And, such holidays are not complete without the requisite parades, parties, picnics and barbeque. The distinct party favor affiliated with Juneteenth is red soda pop or strawberry soda. Red, is after all one of the three colors on the Juneteenth, Texas and American flags. (each flag is red, white and blue)
The end of bondage and beginning of freedom is something worth celebrating. Juneteenth is the perfect occasion to do so.