Juneteenth: the slaves are free

Today was not only the day before Father’s Day, but also a day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. Inspired by a brief note on NPR this morning, I learned that June 19, or “Juneteenth”, is a holiday that originated in Texas and is now observed by 35 states (including California but not including Utah). President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, but Texas was a hold out, and eventually 2,000 troops (!) had to be sent out to Texas in 1865 to enforce the Proclamation. Wikipedia relates that “legend has it” that General Granger read this statement aloud on June 19:

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.

June 19 has become Juneteenth, and it is apparently a vigorous annual celebration, in Texas and around the world.

I find it difficult to imagine what it would have felt like, as a slave, to learn that suddenly you had the same personal and property rights as your heretofore master. And it always gives me pause when I learn about some new slice of our country’s history that it then seems impossible not to have known. I hadn’t realized that it took years for the Emancipation Proclamation to have an effect throughout all the States. Given thought, some delay makes sense, since at the time merely getting the news out must have taken weeks or months. (We today are so used to instantaneous communication!) But the subsequent lag brings home more forcefully what an upheaval this decision was and how difficult it was to bring the country into alignment — by force, in some cases.

I hope that we never need federal troops to step in and force communities to recognize equal marriage rights for all humans.

Post a Comment

I knew this already. I learned something new!