In the wake of the horrific terrorist attack in Charleston, South Carolina, I feel like we need to remember our Civil War history and Juneteenth in particular this year.
“Though Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, it had minimal immediate effect on most slaves’ day-to-day lives, particularly in Texas, which was almost entirely under Confederate control. Texas was resistant to the Emancipation Proclamation, and though slavery was very prevalent in East Texas, it was not as common in the Western areas of Texas, particularly the Hill Country, where most German-Americans were opposed to the practice. Juneteenth commemorates June 18 and 19, 1865. June 18 is the day Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. On June 19, 1865, legend has it while standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3″:
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.
That day has since become known as Juneteenth, a name derived from a portmanteau of the words June and nineteenth.
Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. Across many parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land specifically for their communities’ increasingly large Juneteenth gatherings—including Houston’s Emancipation Park, Mexia’s Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.” (Reference)
One hundred and fifty years ago today. It was only one hundred and fifty years ago that Texas officially proclaimed an end to slavery, three and a half after Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation. That is the lifespan of two old people alive today. And we all know that slavery didn’t end racism, and desegregation didn’t end until fifty years ago. Even then it only ended legally.
I’m not saying this in any way justifies the terrorist attack, or means we should go easy on the killer or our criticism. I’m saying undoing the legacy of antiblack racism and institutional slavery is going to take a lot more than a petition to get the Confederate flag taken down from the South Carolina Capitol. I was thinking earlier this morning about the fact that in the Middle East there are groups that get Israelis and Palestinians, or Muslims and Jews and Christians, together to discuss their differences in a respectful, open way. Maybe we need a similar sort of program to help unpack the underlying tensions in this country between northerners and southerners, between whites and blacks, in this country.
Statue in Galveston commemorating the 1979 passage of legislation “memorializing” the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, TX.