Why Juneteenth?


I received a series of questions from an old friend, the underlying theme is Why Juneteenth?

Hi Roger—

I’m thinking about Juneteenth today:  it’s being described as “the newest holiday” but I’m not sure whether it counts as an actual holiday.

Per the Pew Research Center via MSN: “Some 28 states and the District of Columbia made the date a public holiday, analysts revealed. State workers were given the day off with full pay, and state government offices were closed in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.”

So the banks were closed, and the mail wasn’t delivered. There have always been holidays, including Presidents Day and MLK Day, where states and private entities have chosen not to participate.
The implication is that it’s something to celebrate
Truth is always something to, if not celebrate, then to honor.
What I’ve heard suggests that it’s about slaves being kept in the dark about emancipation for a couple of years before anyone bothered to tell them.
Somehow, it seems unlikely that something so big could be kept secret for so  long.
“A couple of years” goes back to the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. As the National Archives notes: “Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Northern control. Most importantly, the freedom it promised depended upon Union (United States) military victory.

“Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.”

The bona fides of June 19, 1865, are well documented. Also, I’ve been to Galveston, TX, which is on a barrier island.

Wars are complicated

So, formalities aside, wasn’t it all over, literally, but the shouting?

“It would be easy to think so in our world of immediate communication, but as Granger and the 1,800 bluecoats under him soon found out, news traveled slowly in Texas. Whatever Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered in Virginia, the Army of the Trans-Mississippi had held out until late May, and even with its formal surrender on June 2, a number of ex-rebels in the region took to bushwhacking and plunder.

“That’s not all that plagued the extreme western edge of the former Confederate states. Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana, and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach.”

Also:  “Without the forceful appearance of Union soldiers, Black Texans had remained imprisoned within the convulsive clutches of a dying Confederacy.” So even if people had heard the news, it “held little practical meaning so long as the state remained under Confederate control.”

I’m not sure what there is to celebrate about waiting as long as possible to let the enslaved know they were “free.”

 This is people owning their own freedom.  “The year following 1865, freedmen in Texas organized the first of what became the annual celebration of ‘Jubilee Day’ on June 19. Juneteenth commemorations featured music, barbecues, prayer services, and other activities in the ensuing decades. As Black people migrated from Texas to other parts of the country, the Juneteenth tradition spread.” This Daily Kos piece addresses some of this. 
So its tradition predates MLK Day, or Black History Month, which began as Negro History Week in 1926.
What if
I also wonder what Lincoln might have been thinking about the Emancipation Proclamation: Did he realize how complicated it was?  Did he know but just put off the details for later and leave nearly everything else as it was?
That’s a more layered question. Would the Freedmen’s Bureaus have existed longer under Lincoln?  Would there have been more punitive actions against the Confederate states before re-entering the Union to prevent them from essentially going back to the status quo, with Jim Crow replacing slavery? There are probably more books about Lincoln than anyone, save maybe Jesus Christ.
I think the Library Of Congress piece is pretty straightforward. Obviously, freedom is not a straight line. The struggles of the 1940s, 1950s, and later were a direct result of freedom denied.
As many have noted, we are to form a “more perfect union.” It ain’t finished yet, and probably never will be. It operates in fits and starts with two steps forward and one or three steps back (see women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, etc., etc., etc.)
I spend less time thinking about what could have been done in the 1860s and 1870s because we can’t change it. Only the future we can change. Maybe.
Here’s a cartoon that may be too much on the nose.
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