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Celebrating Freedom on Juneteenth

Celebrating Freedom on Juneteenth

With liberty and justice for all

I first blogged about Juneteenth last year. As I noted then, the day’s significance is almost criminally under appreciated.

This year though, I’m thrilled to see more national publications commemorating the 19th of June. Juneteenth even received the Heavy treatment.

Because there are only so many ways to recount historical events, my post from last year:

Through the course of conversation, I found many of my freedom-loving friends had never heard of Juneteenth.

Being a native Texan living right up the road from Galveston, maybe I’ve taken for granted that the 19th of June has always been a day of significance and celebration. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 two years into the Civil War, but the proclamation’s issuance didn’t trigger nationwide freedom for the enslaved.

While the Civil War came to a welcome end on June 2, 1865, it wasn’t until June 19th that the last slaves learned they were free. It was on Juneteenth that Union General Granger read “General Order No. 3” on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, 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. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly 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.

The day has been celebrated ever since.

You can watch Part 2 and Part 3 by clicking the links.

Juneteenth is a testimony of how an imperfect nation bore the pain of death and division so that the right of liberty might expand its reach.

“But what a feeling can come over a man just from seeing the things he believes in and hopes for symbolized in the concrete form of a man. In something that gives a focus to all the other things he knows to be real. Something that makes unseen things manifest and allows him to come to his hopes and dreams through his outer eye and through the touch and feel of his natural hand.”

-From Ralph Ellison’s unfinished work, Juneteenth

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Comments

…they will not be supported in idleness…

That would be a good policy for today’s world.

President Trump mentioned it today…

https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/06/19/statement-president-donald-j-trump-juneteenth

In a search, Obama also issued statements concerning this date.

inspectorudy | June 19, 2017 at 1:43 pm

“The freedmen are advised to remain quietly 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.”

If only this policy had carried over to the welfare system we have today the people on it would be much better off than the dole they live on now. This is akin to saying “You are now free but you still have responsibilities”.

but the proclamation’s issuance didn’t trigger nationwide freedom for the enslaved.

Even worse, the Proclamation didn’t proclaim anything about the slave states which remained in the Union—Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Kentucky. It applied only to the states “in rebellion”, or the 11 states of the Confederacy (although by then Tennessee was entirely under control of Union troops and so no longer actually in rebellion). Elimination of slavery throughout the country became official with the 13th Amendment, but that didn’t happen until December 1865.

General Tecumseh Sherman noted that, during his campaigning from Atlanta to Savannah in late 1864 (a.k.a. the “March to the Sea”), his column attracted huge crowds of (ex) slaves who saw him in Biblical terms, and followed him like he was a modern Moses. Of course he had no way to feed or otherwise care for them; the strategic foundation of the campaign was that his troops moved fast, without the enormous baggage trains characteristic of 18th and 19th century armies. The camp followers were just out of luck.

It’s hard to say that the whole thing was handled well; the nuts-and-bolts consequences weren’t handled at all. The (ex) slaves had no idea what “freedom” meant … did it mean they didn’t have to work any more? Where would they live? Who would feed them? And being mainly illiterate (as per law), it was hard to find answers.

It’s not like there was any blueprint for suddenly giving millions of slaves their freedom. Sure it would have been nice if Granger had said “make sure you vote Republican and build a border wall now”, but that’s not really freedom, is it. And “separate by equal” was a Democratic fiasco, obviously. At least they didn’t try to put in a minimum wage or some other economic mismanagement that would have gotten them all fired.

At that point, black people had their whole future ahead of them, but you know what, the same is true today. Just a decade ago Bill Cosby told black people to speak English, pull their pants up, take care of their kids, etc etc if they want to get ahead, and was criticized by “intellectuals” like Eric Dyson. Over a century ago, Booker T Washington was saying essentially the same thing and getting criticized by WE Dubois.

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