Jun. 18, 2019

What Exactly Is Juneteenth & Should It Be A Celebration?

Tomorrow is JUNETEENTH. What exactly is Juneteenth? How significant is that date in the reality of black emancipation? Does Juneteenth really have an important place in the lives of Black Americans today? Well, let's first look historically at the date in question June 19, 1865. Why is this date so important? First, consider this on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was legally binding by Executive Order of President Abraham Lincoln. The Emancipation Proclamation freed all enslaved Americans of African Descent held in bondage in all the Confederate States. It didn't free any enslaved Americans of African Descent held in bondage in any Confederate territory held by Union forces prior to December 31, 1862, nor did it free any Americans of African Descent in the so-called border states still loyal to the Union.

Since Texas was indeed at the time a state loyal to the Confederacy. Every former slave was henceforth and forever free. Well, the news of the Emancipation Proclamation didn't exactly move through the Confederacy at breakneck speed. As a matter of fact, it seems that Texas's enslaved population never received word of the historic document. Even two years later in the Spring of 1865, Robert E. Lee's surrender which ended the Civil War. Texas's enslaved population didn't know that they had achieved actual emancipation. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas on that date. It was only then that the enslaved populations of Texas begin to be notified of the emancipation status. Granger issued General Order Number 3 thus freeing all 250,000 slaves in Texas. This was the actual historic beginning date of the annual celebration now known as Juneteenth, June + 19.

Did every one of those quarter of million former slaves automatically become free? No, because it was up to the former slave owners to notify them of their emancipation status. I'm certain that Major General Granger surely didn't realize he was responsible for the celebration known as Juneteenth. Because he understood slavery in Texas actually ended on January 1, 1863. Yet to those former enslaved Texans, Juneteenth became a historic date. It became a recognized holiday in the state of Texas, a day of celebrations and parties. However, in reality, June 19, 1865, meant little because within a little more than a decade all forms of emancipation and civil liberties were eliminated from the lives of Americans of African Descent. Many of our ancestors even fell into situations far worse than those conditions that existed on June 18, 1865.

If we are to celebrate Juneteenth in our black communities. Then maybe we as a community should be celebrating July 2, 1964. First, the United States Senates passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, on June 19, 1964, by a vote of 73-27. This bill provided absolute citizenship rights that had been denied Black Americans for nearly a century. It was the legislation that had been demanded by our ancestors who battled forces of segregation, violence, and prejudice during the civil rights struggle. The final bill was signed by President Johnson during a public display of racial unity, on July 2, 1964, just a couple of hours after the Civil Rights Bill passed the House of Representative by a vote of 290-130. Of course, even the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 didn't immediately solve the struggle for Black Americans equality. In some cases that struggle is still ongoing 54 years after final passage and Johnson's presidential signature, and the pomp and circumstances of the signing event.

So, in reality, Juneteenth is a date without any true historical relevance other than an opportunity to have a party. Why do we continue to celebrate or mention a date that indicates the news traveled slowly in a white-controlled Confederacy? Why do we celebrate a date that actually didn't mean equality or freedom for Americans of African Descent? Even many former slaves in Texas weren't freed on June 19, 1865, because it was up to the white plantation owners to inform them of General Order #3. So, today just a little history related to a date mired in confusion, Juneteenth, what does it really mean? Didn't the 13th Amendment that was ratified by the state's and amended the US Constitution on December 6, 1865.