June 19 - Juneteenth

Posted on June 19, 2020

June 19th being called Juneteenth is very clever (I wrote about the name in a 2010 post) - and I believe the name dates back to 1866 - but this holiday is also called by some Emancipation Day or Freedom Day. Since it's an American holiday, it sounds like it commemorates June 19th of some year when all those who had been enslaved were finally-finally-finally freed, or emancipated.
And it DOES celebrate the freedom of all enslaved African Americans in the U.S. But that's not what happened (at least not everywhere) on June 19, 1865.

Remember, President Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation in July of 1862, and it became official on January 1, 1863. So enslaved African Americans in the Confederate States of America were - as far as the United States was concerned - freed about two and a half years before June 19, 1865. 

Of course the Confederate states no longer recognized the U.S. as their country, or Abraham Lincoln as their president, let alone any laws or proclamations concerning slavery coming from Lincoln and "the Union."

As you know, most white people in the South felt strongly enough about their "right" to OWN HUMAN BEINGS that they had broken up with the United States and were waging war against it!

That war, usually called the U.S. Civil War, was over when General Robert E. Lee surrendered in April of 1865 - several months before June 19, 1865. 

Slavery itself wasn't really and truly ended in the United States until the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in December of 1865 - a few months AFTER June 19, 1865.

What actually DID happen on this date in 1865 is that Major General Gordon Granger and a group of Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the war was over and enslaved people were free. Texas was the most remote of the Southern states, and there had been very few Union troops to enforce federal laws, until Granger arrived, so slavery had continued there longer than most places.

This year Juneteenth celebrations will be...different? I'm guessing! Rather than local celebrations with speeches and backyard barbecues, beauty pageants and parades, there is more nationwide interest in the holiday because of the horrific George Floyd murder and the Black Lives Matter movement. But there is also the looming specter of the COVID-19 virus that has made large gatherings dangerous.

This year people have been forced to be more cautious and creative but also more passionate. I read that some cities are planning drive-through celebrations, the city of Detroit is holding a week-long celebration with livestream discussions, several big companies are giving workers the day off, and new awareness of the holiday for many has resulted in decisions to postpone non-Juneteenth-ish premieres and events so as not to distract from the holiday.

Happy Juneteenth!

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