SAN JOSE, CA June 19, 2015 – A majority of Americans have never heard of Juneteenth, but it is a legitimate holiday that is essentially a celebration of freedom. It is also known as Emancipation Day, or Freedom Day. When many first hear of Juneteenth, they often think there is a mistake with the wording and they become not only curious about the holiday, but also about the word that depicts the holiday.
The name of Juneteenth is what is known as a portmanteau or a combination of two or more words comprising an entirely new word with a blended meaning of the words involved. A simple example would be the word “smog” which was created by joining smoke and fog. Juneteenth is the portmanteau of June and nineteenth; a single word which signifies a special day in the history if the United States.
Juneteenth commemorates the day of June 19, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, first learned the American Civil War was over and they had received their long awaited liberation. It was a day of celebration, with singing, dancing, and feasting. Although the American Civil War ended on April of 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate forces at Appomattox, in Virginia, news of the end of the devastating war took that long to reach Texas.
On June 18, 1865, over two months after U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant accepted General Lee’s surrender, U. S. General Gordon Granger marched 2,000 Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas to secure the state and oversee procedures for the emancipation of the slaves. The very next day, while standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, General Granger read the basic contents of “General Order No. 3” that represented the practical fulfillment of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Despite the fulfillment of the Emancipation Proclamation, the announcement and practical arrangements of freedom had to be backed up by the 2,000 federal troops. The U.S. Army needed to enforce such an order by taking control the state of Texas to ensure compliance with the U.S. Army order because the staunch Confederates there were resistant to emancipation. As could be anticipated, the majority of former Confederates after the war were quite resistant to such radical change in their lifestyle and social status.
Even the former slaves had to deal with such a radical change. But such a change was a forced change; a change that was the outcome of one of the most destructive wars that the United States was involved in. The cost of such freedom for a people was extraordinarily high. More American men and boys died in the War between Brothers than any other war in the nation’s history. The issue, as Lincoln saw it, was whether a nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that “all men were created equal” could continue to exist.
Freedom was certainly the issue, and despite the volumes of scholarly explanations on economic disparity and state’s rights, the real issue of the Civil War, the one which the Confederates were fighting for and willing to die for, was their “right” to own human beings as private property. It became politicized and ultimately justified as the sovereignty of states to be free from federal law that would abolish slavery.
Lincoln and the Union were fighting for the freedom for all men, and for the very survival of a government that could ensure the eventual freedom for all.
Unfortunately, many who are “taught” U.S. history today have essentially been indoctrinated with the narrative that slavery existed within the U.S. for ‘hundreds’ of years. That is a fallacy. James Fort was created in the colony of Virginia in the summer of 1607, and slavery was introduced in Jamestown about eight years later. There was no United States of America in that time. Slaves were introduced by the Dutch to the English colonists at Jamestown, which was a British settlement until 1781.
Actually, America only existed as an idea in 1776, and it was not until General Washington defeated Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781 that the colonies were free of British rule. During 160 years, a white southern aristocracy originated, and was able to adapt to the new United States by developing political power to maintain a centralized, monarchical-based tyranny that did not truly fit in the Land of the Free.
In his Gettysburg Address in 1863, Lincoln’s words serve as one point of reference for how long slavery existed in the U.S. when he stated: “Fore score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that ‘all men are created equal…”
Lincoln arbitrarily chose 1776 as the moment of conception; yet doing the math properly indicates that while the institution of African slavery existed in North America from 1615, it existed in the United States from the time it was officially recognized as a legitimate nation via the peace treaty between Britain, France, and the U.S. in 1783. So, slavery existed for a period of 82 years before the celebration of Emancipation Day in 1865. By November of 1863 when Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, slavery had really existed in the U.S.A. for 80 years.
This part of American history is difficult to come to grips with today, as it involves emotions that are mingled with only a portion of genuine understanding of the terror and turbulence of the time. A common citizen had to be careful in conversations with associates because if they supported abolition, they would be watched and possibly targeted. As early as 1837, young Abraham Lincoln spoke of the dangers of lawlessness that existed in the country as he was a contemporary witness to lynchings or shootings of abolitionists, slaves that were too “rebellious,” and white sympathizers. He warned against the lawlessness of his day brought about by the ramifications of those who supported slavery and those who opposed it.
Sadly, most people focus in on the problems of slavery in America in this time; however, many forget that the enslavement of humans had existed from the beginnings of human civilization. Few students of history focus on the victory over slavery in this incredible moment in time when white and black soldiers from the Army of the Republic defeated a Confederate Army intent on defending the institution of slavery to the death.
Over 620,000 men and boys died during the American Civil War, and the majority of those who died were white men and boys who fought for or against a white aristocracy that went to the extent of initiating a war to protect the institution of slavery and their long entrenched structure of power.
Students of history often wonder why the people of Germany followed Hitler, or allowed Hitler to obtain so much power. What is not often questioned is why the people of the South allowed the white Southern power structure to maintain so much power over the citizens in their region. In each case of assumed power over the people, the rise of tyranny occurred through deliberate political developments within each area. Hitler did not automatically become a dictator. He was a politician first and garnered power over a period of time through political persuasion and manipulation. The old white southern aristocracy derived power via ownership of land and slaves, which had been a transplant of the Feudal system from the old country.
Today in America, there is still a pervasive resentment from this divisive time: from those descendants of former slave owners toward the descendants of former abolitionists and the descendants of the Yankee Army that broke the Old South, from descendants of former slaves toward the descendants of former slave owners, and resentment from many who absorb the poison of anger and hate and bitterness as a sponge would absorb liquid. Perhaps the ones who continued to suffer the most were the former slaves. The white Southern aristocracy did not go away after the war, they just adapted. The Ku Klux Klan formally came out of the closet in 1865.
The emotions of intolerance are strong, and represent a human problem, not a racial problem. When such emotions run wild, chaos and destructiveness will dominate humanity. Juneteenth, and the realization of the incredible victory over the institution of slavery was powerful for former slaves. The freed slaves in Galveston who realized they were free, and didn’t need any permission from their former masters, freely danced and sang in such a precious moment of long-awaited liberation. Although equality was a long way off, freedom was so precious that the former slaves began to sing and dance in a way they had never been able to sing and dance previous to that moment in time.
For those who have never truly known the horrors of bondage or enslavement, it is hard to comprehend the feelings of those who had just been served notice that they were finally free. They must have been overwhelmed with emotions and one the one hand, the concept may have been unbelievable, while on the other hand, such uncontrollable joy may have swept over those who had been liberated. Juneteenth is a celebration of emancipation or freedom. It is a holiday that deserves a more substantial place in America’s history. Although now not widely known, it should be is a day to celebrate everyone’s freedom – not just for black Americans, but for all Americans.