Juneteenth on My Mind: The Great Conflictedness

Posted on June 27, 2011 by

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Juneteenth on My Mind

By Bro. Mxolisi

Juneteenth commemorates the day when slavery was finally ended in Texas, primarily the Galveston area, where over 200 thousand Africans were still enslaved, despite President Lincoln having issued the Emancipation Proclamation nearly three years earlier (Sept. 22, 1862). It was June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived to read and enforce General Order #3, announcing that “all slaves are free” by Proclamation of the President.

Our ancestors were free at last! Free, that is, to either stay where they were and try to negotiate a fair wage with whoever would hire them, or join the Union forces. Lincoln’s “Proclamation” included these words: “And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all case when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

“And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.”

(It is understandable that a Juneteenth gathering might include reference to the Great Conflictedness of Lincoln relative to the liberation of our Ancestors. Since the 1840’s he was an advocate of colonization, desiring to remove Africans from the U.S. to anywhere in the world that would accept them, feeling that equality and harmony amongst the races in this country was an impossible aspiration. He mentioned colonization favorably in his first Emancipation Proclamation, and continued to support efforts at colonization throughout his presidency.

(In March of 1861, both the House and Senate passed the so-called Corwin Amendment which was to become the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was signed by President Buchanan on his last day in office – March 4, 1861 – and was in the process of being ratified by the states when the Civil war erupted disrupting that process. This proposed amendment would have forbidden the adoption of any constitutional amendment that would have abolished or restricted slavery, or permitted the Congress to do so. In his inaugural address on that day, Lincoln referenced the Corwin Amendment in this manner: “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution . . . has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.” Technically, the Corwin Amendment is still pending, perhaps reflecting the continuing Great Conflictedness of the nation. As recently as 1963, a resolution to ratify the Corwin Amendment was introduced in the Texas state legislature.)

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The Order delivered by Granger included these telling admonitions: “The freed are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” (These words from Granger came as the Civil War was winding down, with over 200 thousand Black troops having put their lives on the line for FREEDOM! and to save the nation, in response to Lincoln’s earlier order.)

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But our ancestors were not fools; not raised by fools, either. They “would not be denied the liberty that had eluded them so long. When the news came (to Texas) entire plantations were deserted. Many blacks brought from Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri during the War, returned home while Texas freedpersons headed for Galveston, Houston and other cities where Federal troops were stationed. Although news of emancipation came at different times during that Texas summer of 1865, local blacks gradually settled on June 19 (Juneteenth) as their day of celebration.

“Beginning in 1866 they held parades, picnics, barbecues, and gave speeches in remembrance of their liberation. By 1900 the festivities had grown to include baseball games, horse races, railroad excursions, and formal balls. By that time Juneteenth had officially become Texas Emancipation Day and was sponsored by black churches and civic organizations. Indeed, Juneteenth had become so respectable that white politicians including various Texas governors addressed the largest gatherings (which sometimes included upwards of 5,000 people) in Houston and Dallas. Juneteenth had surpassed the Fourth of July as the biggest holiday of the year for Texas African Americans.

“With the migration of African Americans from Texas to the West Coast particularly during World War II, Juneteenth simultaneously declined in Texas and grew in the emerging black communities of Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and San Diego. And some communities east of Texas such as Washington, D.C., and Birmingham, Alabama, began celebrations as well. But by the 1970s many blacks, including those in Texas, had forgotten the holiday’s origins and its significance in African American history….” (Sources: Quintard Taylor, “The Juneteenth Celebration, 1865-1992,” Eugene Register-Guard, June 8, 1992, pp. 1D, 4D.)

(Noted late historian R.R. Palmer felt that the abolishment of slavery in the United States without compensation to the former slave owners was an “annihilation of individual property rights without parallel…in the history of the Western world”.  One economic historian – Robert E. Wright – has asserted that it would have been much cheaper for the federal government to have purchased and emancipated the enslaved Africans instead of fighting the Civil War. To which ASAR Dr. Chancellor Williams would have said, “That’s the way it is in this color crazy world!”)

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While Juneteenth is widely held as the day on which slavery ended throughout the U.S., Africans continued to be enslaved in New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri and Washington D.C. until the ratification of the current Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865. Also at that time the approximately 40 thousand (40,000) Africans who were set free in Kentucky were considered the last legally enslaved persons in the U.S. 

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Juneteentht might be the most-widely unknown holiday/observance in the nation. It is presently recognized as a state holiday or state holiday observance in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Delaware, Idaho, Alaska, Iowa, California, Wyoming, Missouri, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Arkansas, Oregon, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Virginia, Washington, Tennessee, Massachusetts, North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina, Vermont, Nebraska, Kansas and Wisconsin. In 2003, the District of Columbia passed legislation to recognize Juneteenth as a district holiday observance. Many more states, including Utah, Alabama, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Montana, Maryland and Mississippi have recognized Juneteenth through state legislative resolutions and Gubernatorial Proclamations. Maine and Nevada were expected to approve some measure of official state recognition this year. The state of Texas made Juneteenth an official holiday on Jan. 1, 1980, and became the first and only state thus far to grant it government recognition, granting it full state holiday status, a day when government employees have the day off.  

The Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D., Founder & Chairman of the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign and the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF), heads an on-going effort which is urging congress to enact legislation to make Juneteenth Independence Day a National Day of Observance. In 1997, Juneteenth Independence Day was first officially recognized as America’s 2nd Independence Day by the U.S. Congress through the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 11, sponsored by then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), and U.S. House Joint Resolution 56, sponsored by Congressman J. C. Watt (D-OK). Similiar legislation has been passed by congress annually since 2006. Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) continues to serve as Chairman of the National Juneteenth Congressional Committee.

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