Today is Juneteenth and a time to celebrate.
For those of you who do not know what Juneteenth is, I’ll have a little history for you after the fold.
As of June 2008, 29 states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or state holiday observance; these include Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming
In the year in which an African American candidate was nominated by the Democratic Party, which prior to the Civil War was a party complicit with slavery, the Juneteenth celebration this year is particularly special.
What is Juneteenth?
More after the fold.
Some folks think the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery, but
the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, did no such thing – or, at least, it didn’t do a very good job of it. Two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers sailed into Galveston, Texas, announced the end of the Civil War, and read aloud a general order freeing the quarter-million slaves residing in the state. It’s likely that none of them had any idea that they had actually been freed more than two years before. It was truly a day of mass emancipation. It has become known as Juneteenth.
Since then, Juneteenth has been a day of celebration for many African Americans, a de facto second Independence Day commemorating the end of slavery and a first step toward inclusion in the greater American dream.
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.
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. Juneteenth celebrations include a wide range of festivities, such as parades, street fairs, cookouts, or park parties and include such things as music and dancing or even contests of physical strength and intellect. Baseball and other popular American games may also be played.
I hope some of you will check this site out today. Learn about the folks who struggled for freedom, who fought to make their own liberation, and who lived in slavery and defeated the “masters” by making their own culture.
The 17-volume Slave Narratives was edited and re-organized by George P. Rawick and published as The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972).
I knew George Rawick, and took classes he taught in the 1980s. He was a great influence on my thinking, teaching me to critically analyze power and deal with the concrete, rather than the abstract, relations between oppressor and the oppressed. He was a good man, a true progressive who fought his whole life for working people.
From 1936 to 1938, over 2,300 former slaves from across the American South were interviewed by writers and journalists under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration.
These former slaves, most born in the last years of the slave regime or during the Civil War, provided first-hand accounts of their experiences on plantations, in cities, and on small farms. Their narratives remain a peerless resource for understanding the lives of America’s four million slaves. What makes the WPA narratives so rich is that they capture the very voices of American slavery, revealing the texture of life as it was experienced and remembered. Each narrative taken alone offers a fragmentary, microcosmic representation of slave life. Read together, they offer a sweeping composite view of slavery in North America, allowing us to explore some of the most compelling themes of nineteenth-century slavery, including labor, resistance and flight, family life, relations with masters, and religious belief.
This web site provides an opportunity to read a sample of these narratives, and to see some of the photographs taken at the time of the interviews.
The entire collection of narratives can be found in George P. Rawick, ed., The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972-79).
From the Narratives:
Yes Lawd! I have been here so long I ain’t forgot nothin’. I can remember things way back. I can remember things happening when I was four years old. Things that happen now I can’t remember so well. Bit I can remember things that happened way back yonder.
Here is a book that constituted an introduction to the 17 volumes of the Narratives and provided Rawick’s analysis of slavery and racism:
George Rawick’s From Sundown to Sunup is by far the most successful recent book about slave culture. . . . As impressive as Rawick’s analysis of slave life is his interpretation of American racism.
-Eric Foner, University Review
On this day, it might be worth looking at this speech again.
Obama Speech: ‘A More Perfect Union’ (whole speech, almost 40 minutes)
Here’s a shorter clip with highlights:
And this clip from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr.’s last speech:
And we should remember this man:
Douglass and the abolitionists argued that because the aim of the war was to end slavery, African Americans should be allowed to engage in the fight for their freedom. Douglass publicized this view in his newspapers and several speeches.
On the night of December 31, 1862, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves of the Confederacy while continuing slavery in Union-held areas. Douglass described the spirit of those awaiting the announcement:
“We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky…we were watching…by the dim light of the stars for the dawn of a new day…we were longing for the answer to the agonizing prayers of centuries.“
A lot of people struggled, and that struggle is still not over. But today, let’s all celebrate Juneteenth.
2005 Juneteenth Festival East Palo Alto