The Difficulties of Deliberate Delays
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Often banned on public land, violence against former slaves has forced many to congregate in remote rural areas. In 1872, black Houstonians pooled their resources to purchase a 10-acre piece of land called “Emancipation Park.” The site was used to host a June 19 rally called the Festival of Colored People.
The backdrop of Juneteenth resulted from the divided mindset of a severely divided country. The Confederate States of America were furious when President Abraham Lincoln dared write the executive order that freed the slaves. Lincoln issued the preliminary “Emancipation Proclamation” September 22, 1862. However, it only came into force January 1, 1863. As word spread, the order motivated 200,000 formerly enslaved black people to enlist in the Union Army to fight for freedom.
Fear over further loss of human capital created a backlash in the south. Slave owners in Mississippi and Louisiana moved quickly – bringing the human cargo to the welcoming arms of the plantations of East Texas. The intent was to push black Americans deeper into slavery beyond the reach of the Union Army. Historians estimate that 150,000 illegally enslaved blacks were sent west, forced into continued servitude.
Step into the shoes of an African American living in Texas circa 1863. While working on the masters farm, you probably heard of Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation.” Imagine the frustration of having your freedom revoked simply because you lack representation and by extension the power to change the status quo of local life.
Abraham Sells, who remained a slave against his will (in the heart of East Texas), described this desire in his slave account: in the night, stirring the ashes with the poker and raking the roas’ ‘taters. They smoke the old corncob pipe and homemade tobacco and whisper in low, silent voices like what they do in the winter and what ‘they do in winter when Sir Lincoln releases them.
Imagine the brutal backlash – to your whole family – if you decided to exercise your right to freedom by taking your case to court. Imagine being trapped like a wounded animal in a vise built by people who profit from your loss. Sadly, deliverance from this embodiment of evil reached black Americans nearly 3 years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves.
Urban legend has it that the phrase “Don’t shoot the messenger” stems from reports of postmen being shot on the spot for attempting to deliver the news of emancipation. It literally took a federal edict and a garrison of black soldiers to finally enforce the law of the land on this historic date… June 19, 1865.
For the record, the civil war resulted from economic and political changes in power. This inconvenient truth was the truest source of the divide between the northern and southern states. It would be folly to assume that the Civil War was based on the freedom of slaves. Lincoln’s biographical descriptions proved that slavery was used to break the back of the south. The retreat of the southern states was the “real reason” Lincoln found it necessary to abolish slavery. This is the “real reason” his order was denied to slaves from the time it was originally issued (September 22, 1862) until its final delivery in Galveston, Texas (June 19, 1865).
Yes, you read that right. Nearly 3 years of gross criminal injustice transpired in Texas before the United States government sent federal officers to ensure that the Emancipation Proclamation was carried to the masses. As the Civil War raged, 250,000 illegally enslaved black people (throughout the South) prayed for the defeat of the Confederacy. Their prayers have been answered June 19, 1865 when two regiments of Black Union soldiers commanded by General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas to enforce General Order Number 3 stating:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation of the executive branch of the United States, all slaves are free. It is an absolute equality of rights and property rights between former masters and slaves, and the link that therefore exists between them becomes that of the boss to the free worker.
Grangers arrival date was coined “Juneteenth” which is a portmanteau of June 19 and 19. News of the surrender of Confederate General Lee (april 1865) was indeed a festive result. This is why the month and the day are inscribed in history. For black Americans, the meaning of Juneteenth is as important as that of the 4th of July. The irony between the “Fourth of July” and the “Juneteenth” is palpable. You really wonder how people who call themselves patriots can be so deaf? Stop and think about this question. It takes a lot of arrogance to declare independence from English tyranny while simultaneously supporting an oppressive system that even the UK has begun to back down from.
These shameful chapters of American history serve as a cautionary tale. We would all do well to remember that slavery was in full swing when the Patriots left Britain in 1776. During this same period, the institution of slavery was protected by law in all 13 American colonies. Slavery was maintained for no other reason than its gross profitability. In summary, suffering as a source of income did not accelerate the revolution. Taxation without representation was the last straw.
Slavery is the root of evil. This has caused many capitalists to sell their souls to the devil…to bow before the altar of the almighty dollar. In the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s – short term gain outweighed long term salvation. The plain truth is that the love of money (throughout history) has been the most manipulative mechanism capable of clouding the mind of man.
Observed through time, the Bible documents slavery from the dawn of mankind. Either way, the United States pushed slavery to unprecedented levels. It was industrialized in the 1700s by depleting human capital to fuel America’s economic engine. Africans were targeted for enslavement because their skin color offered ease of identification.
PBS.org notes that indentured servitude was introduced to the first colony of Virginia as a form of cheap labor. The English condemned some of the earliest Irish immigrants to indentured servitude in the 1600s, banishing them to the “New World” for various crimes against the crown. Capped on average at age 7, this neonatal incarnation of slavery proved futile. Indentured servants were a temporary state. The Irish in particular were able to shake off the stigma and mingle with the white immigrant population. Solely because of the color of their skin, Africans could never blend in.
Basically, black people have arbitrarily fueled a sinister system that has woven a million threads of false narratives (based solely on color or their skin tone) to keep them enslaved. The world we inherited continues to espouse lies that minimize the content of black character to the effect that it (shuts down minds) obscures the truth of the most heinous practice on the planet. It is unimaginable that the color of a person’s skin could produce such a powerful recipe for discrimination. But the reality of this generational curse remains. It has crept into the psyches of children who are spoon-fed with unhealthy doses of division.
An American regiment did little to untangle four hundred years of slavery. After Reconstruction, southern states implemented Jim Crow laws (1877 to 1950) which institutionalized racism. Over time, the powerful and politically connected wealthy have intentionally woven racism into the larger fabric of American society. They introduced discrimination into laws, education and housing systems, resulting in an inequitable distribution of resources. But that’s another long story for another blog.
Fast forward to 2020, and mounting protests following the senseless deaths of George Floyd Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have torn the crust of racism away. He exposed a festering wound that America seems ill-equipped to heal. One could rightly argue that waves of civil unrest probably pushed Congress (more than a century and a half after June 19, 1865) to hastily vote to make June 16 a national holiday last year on June 16, 2021– three days before the event. For some reason, Juneteenth has recently entered the sphere of public consciousness.
However, long before June 16 became a federal holiday, celebrations were becoming more common in the south. They were held to bring together lost family members, measure progress against freedom, and encourage the next generation to reach higher. June 19 celebrations spread across the country during the Great Migration as black people sought a foothold in society. Juneteenth briefly lost popularity in the 1950s to revive black pride on the heels of the Black Power Movement.
Modern Juneteenth festivities have grown to emphasize education and achievement and recognition of the positive impact of Black Americans (throughout history) who are actively engaged in community building. , identity and individuality. The memory of the past has always remained relevant. It serves as a way to reflect on the opportunities born of broken chains and the realization that many black people are living lives their ancestors might have dreamed of. Juneteenth also provides a perspective to assess current progress. All celebrations converge in the desire to share the spirit of honoring black people of the past whose sacrifices propelled EVERYTHING Americans ahead.
So if you’re wondering why black Americans make a fuss about the hidden historical event labeled June 19… now you know.