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Juneteenth

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President Abraham Lincoln had signed a bill into law on April 16, 1862 freeing slaves in Washington, D.C. However, after being wishy-washy for a long period of time -- thanks in no small part to the urging of the ex-slave Fredrick Douglass -- he signed official papers freeing all African American slaves late in the Summer of 1862.

Yet, he waited until a time when the Northern Union Armies were doing better militarily before making it public. On September 17, 1862, a copy of the Confederate Army’s orders fell into Union hands. As a result, the single bloodiest day of the war -- 10,000 dead and wounded for both sides -- occurred at the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg, Maryland). The Union Army victory became a critical turning point.

Lincoln then felt free to make public on September 23, 1862 the Emancipation Proclamation by publishing this dry legalistic document in Northern Newspapers. Lincoln’s position was that he could legally free only those slave in rebel-held territories and that it was up to Congress or the states to address the question of wider emancipation.

Although not a single slave was freed that day, it did change the character and course of the war. Three points of pertinence were that:

(1) Whites could not own slaves unless they were loyal to the USA;

(2) the freeing of the slaves pertained only to the Confederacy -- not those in border states or territories retaken by Union’s forces; and

(3) the freed slaves were not allowed to be citizens.

Nevertheless, Lincoln’s document of freeing the slaves was supported by France and England. They responded by no longer recognizing the Confederacy. This loss of support weakened the South’s position on maintaining slavery. As the Union Army gradually reestablished Federal control over the South, the Union Generals in command announced to the plantation owners that the slaves were freed on January 1st, 1863.

This is what belatedly happened in Texas by Major General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865. He voided all slavery laws passed during the Confederacy. That same day, Black folks of Galveston held the very first Juneteenth celebration. From Galveston, the holiday spread throughout the rest of Texas; then throughout the South; and eventually throughout the entire nation. In a 1979 bill authored by Texas representative Al Edwards, the Texas Legislature and Governor made it an official state holiday and this spirit has rippled across the USA as a national family holiday.

Typically, Juneteenth is characterized by great entertainment -- complete with dancing, jazz, gospel, and similar Black originated music; tours of Black historic sites; and, of course, good food. The Juneteenth Northwest corporation (2737 NE MLK Jr. Blvd., Portland, OR 97212), founded by Woody Broadnax, has assumed the mission of expanding the education and beneficial services to struggling Black Americans.

Examples include job, business, and self-reliance preparation classes; the solicitation and fund-raising activities; and the provision of community unity consultations, the publishing and public relations services for all Juneteenth celebrations, and the observance and celebration directives and structural guidance.

In addition, its national office orients and trains personnel for all Juneteenth service centers, including licenses and certifications for training classes. Respect, Responsibility Accountability, and Productivity are emphasized in order to maintain freedom.

Otherwise, those who do not become productive, they say, are doomed to become slaves to those who are productive, no matter who they may be. The Juneteenth Corporation invites your support in “perfecting unity.”

Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D

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