[from the RR archive]
This is an African American holiday started in Texas, for obvious reasons. Wikipedia has a nice summary of key info:
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. State of Texas in 1865. Celebrated on June 19, the term is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, and is recognized as a state holiday in 31 of the United States.
That is, word of President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of January 1863 reached Texas only in June 1865:
The holiday originated in Galveston, Texas; for more than a century, the state of Texas was the primary home of Juneteenth celebrations. Since 1980, Juneteenth has been an official state holiday in Texas. It is considered a “partial staffing holiday” meaning that state offices do not close but some employees will be using a floating holiday to take the day off. Twelve other states list it as an official holiday, including Arkansas, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Alaska and California, where Governor Schwarzenegger proclaimed the day “Juneteenth” on June 19, 2005. Connecticut, however, does not consider it a legal holiday or close government offices in observance of the occasion. Its informal observance has spread to some other states, with a few celebrations even taking place in other countries.
As of May 2009, 31 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, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
This is also a day to remember the 500,000 African Americans, who as soldiers and support troops, many of them formerly enslaved, volunteered for the Union Army at its low point, and who thus played a (the?) key role in winning the Civil War. This is an ironic day, too, given the very weak apology for slavery voted on this week in the mostly white US Senate. A bit late.
You know I love history so I have to contribute here. Abraham Lincoln witnessed a slave auction in New Orleans when he was 21 years old. He was disgusted by it and began to seriously think about how cruel the institution of slavery was. He thought if a man worked with his own hands for something, he should be able to keep it.
However, Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He did not want to force the south to give up its slaves. He offered the southern slave holders (I believe this was the amount) $150 of the US government’s money for each slave. The owners refused. The cotton business, after the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, was bringing in too much revenue for the south to give it up.
Also, Lincoln did not believe African Americans were intelligent and/or capable enough to survive on their own, even if freed. He proposed shipping them back to Africa if need be.
In 1863, the Civil War was dragging on unmercifully. Neither Lincoln nor Jefferson Davis believed this conflict could have lasted so long. The northern and southern soldiers were deserting by the thousands: exhausted and discouraged and just desiring to return home to their families.
Lincoln had to come up with an idea to inspire the Union soldiers so the entire northern army wouldn’t dissipate. He decided to issue the Emancipation Proclamation to ensure one more emotional reason for fighting the southerners, over and above preserving the Union.
Unfortunately, since the Confederacy was still “another country” then, Lincoln’s proclamation, like anything issued from the White House, only applied to the northern states. The southern states ignored it. Plus, obviously, slave owners did not want their slaves to even hear about it, lest they might revolt like Nat Turner.
I’ve read about some African Americans who did not hear that they were no longer required to participate in peonage until the 1950’s! In some remote parts of Alabama and Georgia, the slave owners just never told the black farm workers that they were in fact legally free. As many African Americans in the deep south never left their immediate farms in an entire life time(many of which consisted of thousands of acres) some continued to believe they were owned by whites until well into the 20th century.Of course, this “secret” was perpetuated by the white family who owned the acreage very deliberately to the point that the slaves were never allowed to read, or hear television broadcasts, or listen to radios. Difficult to imagine how barbaric this was.
What was white reaction to the Proclamation? It varied. Some northern whites and northern soldiers were inspired by the dual purpose of freeing slaves plus uniting the Union. Others were infuriated and claimed they weren’t figting to “free negroes”.
Robert E. Lee saw the Emancipation Proclamation as a way for the Union to bolster the number of soldiers it could place on the field because now former black slaves were enlisting in the Union, making it imperative for the Confederacy to increase their own numbers.
Wikipedia has this to say regarding Lee:
“Writing on the matter after the sack of Fredericksburg Lee wrote ‘In view of the vast increase of the forces of the enemy, of the savage and brutal policy he has proclaimed, which leaves us no alternative but success or degradation worse than death, if we would save the honor of our families from pollution, our social system from destruction (does this sound like racism? uh..yeah) let every effort be made, every means be employed, to fill and maintain the ranks of our armies, until God, in his mercy, shall bless us with the establishment of our independence.” Lee’s request for a drastic increase of troops would go unfulfilled.
Also wikipedia claims: The Proclamation was immediately denounced by Copperhead Democrats who opposed the war and advocated restoring the union by allowing slavery. Horatio Seymour, while running for the governorship of New York, cast the Emancipation Proclamation as a call for slaves to commit extreme acts of violence on all white southerners, he said it was “a proposal for the butchery of women and children, for scenes of lust and rapine, and of arson and murder, which would invoke the interference of civilized Europe.”
Racism remained pervasive on both sides of the conflict and many in the North only supported the war as an effort to force the south back into the Union. The promises of many Republican politicians that the war was to restore the Union and not about black rights or ending slavery were now declared lies by their opponents citing the Proclamation. Copperhead David Allen spoke to a rally in Columbiana, Ohio, stating “I have told you that this war is carried on for the Negro. There is the proclamation of the President of the United States. Now fellow Democrats I ask you if you are going to be forced into a war against your Brethren of the Southern States for the Negro. I answer No!”