Celebrating Juneteenth: From Slavery to Freedom
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army rode into Galveston, Texas, where he told enslaved Black Americans of their emancipation. These individuals had not yet been informed of either the Emancipation Proclamation, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 or of Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865—followed by the subsequent surrendering of other Confederate generals to end the Civil War. Three years later with the ratification of the 14th Amendment that repealed the Three-Fifths Compromise, freedmen became Americans under the law.
Juneteenth marks this event, celebrating freedom for all who had been enslaved and as a reminder of the delayed freedom of those who remained enslaved after the passing of the 13th Amendment. The stage for that celebration was set with President Lincoln’s delivery of the Emancipation Proclamation. He had initially issued the executive order in September 1862, following a Union victory at the Battle of Sharpsburg, whereby he stipulated that if the southern states did not end their rebellion by January 1, 1863, the order would go into effect.
The order proclaimed the freedom of enslaved Black Americans in the ten Confederate states still in rebellion – only Tennessee is not mentioned in the listing noted within the order. And the proclamation did not include slave-holding states within the Union—namely Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Missouri, and Kentucky. However, it did alter the aim of the war from solely seeking to preserve the Union to also freeing enslaved peoples.
Although largely a ploy to destabilize the Confederacy, President Lincoln ultimately came to view the executive order among the most important in his presidency. He said, "I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper. If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it."
The Emancipation Proclamation also decreed that freed slaves could be enlisted in the Union Army. More than 200,000 Black Americans—both freedman and enslaved—served in the Union army and navy.
The Proclamation paved the way for passage of the 13th Amendment to our Constitution, which formally abolished slavery in the United States. Both houses had passed the amendment by the end of January 1865 and it was ratified December 6 of that same year. The amendment was followed in 1868 by the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” and which included former slaves, and in 1870 by the 15th Amendment, which gave former male slaves the right to vote. While these amendments have not fully obstructed additional persecutory and oppressive actions towards Black Americans in regard to labor, voting rights, and mass incarceration, they did provide the foundation that allowed Black Americans to fight for their civil rights.
In Galveston,Texas, Major General Granger announced General Order No. 3, which stated: “The people 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 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 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.”
Understanding the Depths of Juneteenth’s Signficance
However, as Einstein graduate student Victoria Sedwick noted in a message to fellow students about the special day, also known as Black Independence Day: “Juneteenth does not signal the end of slavery for all African Americans, or Black descendants of American slavery if you will, but it serves as a commemoration of our collective freedom, whether that happened before 1865 or a century afterward. It represents all the ways in which freedom and justice for African Americans and our Black brethren throughout the African diaspora has always been delayed, whether in slavery or in the criminal justice system. It is a reminder that we are not free until we are all free.”
As part of her Juneteenth notice, Ms. Sedwick shared some articles and videos with her peers. These detail Black American accounts of continued slavery, judicial persecution, healthcare inequities, and more. As she noted: “As a student that is four generations removed from slavery and three generations removed from share cropping, this history is very near my heart and is extremely important to understand the climate of Black America, 1619 to present day. Please take the time to look at these articles. They summarize aspects of post-Emancipation America.” Inside Einstein encourages you to have a look at what she has presented:
How the Bad Blood Started; history of American healthcare (podcast)
Scientific Racism: A Brief History of the Enduring Phony Science That Perpetuates White Supremacy
Black People Were Enslaved in the U.S. Until as Recently as 1963
How the End of Slavery Led to Starvation and Death for Millions of Black Americans
Also see: Mass Graves of Emancipated Black Americans
How 20,000 Blacks Died through Starvation and Overwork in the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’ Concentration Camp in Mississippi
The Slave Patrol: Not just George Floyd: Police Departments have 400-Year History of Racism
Mass Arrests Post-Slavery: Exploiting Black Labor After the Abolition of Slavery
Also see the "13th" documentary on Netflix
A Very Abbreviated History of the Destruction of Black Neighborhoods
American Medicine Was Built on the Backs of Slaves. And It Still Affects How Doctors Treat Patients Today.
The Juneteenth Flag
Perhaps you’ve seen the Juneteenth flag on our campus monitors marking Juneteenth, or in other commemorations of the day. The flag was created In 1997, by Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, in collaboration with Boston-based illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf and others. It features a blue and red background--the top half of which is blue and the bottom red, with an arcing line delineating it from the blue. It is adorned by a solid white star inside the outline of a starburst, which appears at the center of the banner. The flag is often used at ceremonies on Juneteenth in celebration of freedom.
In a story on CNN.com, Mr. Haith explained the symbolism of the flag’s elements. The white star at its center represents both Texas—the Lone Star State—where Union soldiers informed the nation’s last remaining enslaved people of their freedom, and the freedom of African Americans in all 50 states. The starburst outline surrounding the star was inspired by a nova, a term that astronomers use to describe a new star. Mr. Haith said its representation on the flag signifies the new beginning for the freed slaves of Galveston and throughout the land. The arc at the top of the red field of the background symbolizes a new horizon, or the opportunities and promise that lay ahead for Black Americans in the United States. And the red, white, and blue match the colors of the American flag, and serve as a reminder that enslaved Africans and their descendants were and are Americans.
Of the flag’s colors and their symbolism Mr. Haith poignantly noted, “While African Americans today are still fighting for equality and justice, the colors symbolize the continuous commitment of people in the United States to do better—and to live up to the American ideal of liberty and justice for all.”
Editor’s Note: In compiling this Around Campus article, information was found on the following websites: Wikipedia, Prairie View A&M University, History.com, and CNN.com. Additional inspiration was provided by an email sent to fellow students by Einstein graduate student Victoria Sedwick.
Posted on: Tuesday, June 23, 2020