The history books glorify Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation for freeing the slaves, but in reality, this only applied to slaves who were on plantations close to Union borders. These slaves escaped their plantations and were comfortably free within hours. This was only true for around 250,000 slaves who were located close to the “Mason-Dixon Line,” as it was called at the time. Notice even though the slaves were “free,” I still used the word “escape,” as a lot of slave owners didn’t adhere to the Emancipation Proclamation. They still hung and whipped slaves who tried to leave under the new order.
Lincoln signed the Proclamation on January 1, 1863. While this was supposed to free over 2 million slaves, 85 percent of the slave population didn’t even know the event occurred because insubordinate slave owners hid the news from them.
180,000 black soldiers served in the military during the civil war, and 90,000 of them were runaway slaves with chips on their shoulders. Texas was a slave state, but no battles were fought there, so for two years, slaves were unaware that not only was the civil war over, but slavery had been abolished also. Many slave owners viewed Texas as a safe haven and moved there with their slaves to escape Union pressure.
On June 19, 1865, after the war had ended, General Gordon Granger of the Union army rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced that the civil war was over and all slaves were free. He held in his hand documentation that read: “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 becomes that between employer and hired labor.” Over 2 million slaves had no idea that by this point in time, slavery had been eradicated for over two years.
It was this day that Juneteenth was born; it’s our Independence Day! See, in 1776 when America was celebrating its independence, its black population wasn’t included. People of color in America were not independent until over one hundred years later. Even after General Granger rode into Galveston with the terrific news that slavery was abolished, there was a violent backlash from whites who did not agree with the decision.
Former confederate soldiers still armed themselves, dressed up in uniform, and harassed people of color all through the south. This resulted in an uptick in lynching, beatings, and other forms of violence against people who didn’t make the decision, just benefited from it.
Regardless, the resilient people of color defiantly rejoiced and celebrated their freedom publicly and unapologetically. The first Juneteenth celebration occurred the next year, in 1866. Festivities began with former slaves reading the Emancipation Proclamation word for word over a loudspeaker. Various other events included playing games and singing spiritual songs. These celebrations happened simultaneously in cities and neighborhoods across the south. The newly freed slaves from Texas took their celebrations on the road, wherever they traveled to.
By the 20th century, Jim Crow laws were in full effect, freedom seemed like a foreign concept, and Juneteenth celebrations were becoming non-existent. In 1968, people of color marched in Washington, D.C., to protest conditions in urban and poor neighborhoods that were neglected by federal and local funds. It was called the “Poor People March,” and it brought Juneteenth celebrations back to life along with the necessity for civil rights. In 1980, the state of Texas recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday, and in 1997 congress recognized June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day!
It has been over 150 years since the first Juneteenth celebration. Isn’t it time for this day to be a National Holiday? I envision it to be a mixture of festivities, concerts, and street vending, a celebration of culture and advancements. I also envision various informational booths that promote the upstart of businesses, provide ways to engage in the community, and share educational opportunities for those in need.
HAPPY JUNETEENTH, EVERYONE!!!!!