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Friday, June 18, 2010

Juneteenth

Wouldn’t it be nice if more people celebrated Juneteenth?  Even if it’s just having a BBQ and cracking open a beer?  When I was a kid, my mother’s church would hold its annual picnic on a day to coincide with Juneteenth, which is the third Saturday in June.  Then, by the time I was twelve or so, the Juneteenth picnic had given way to a July 4th picnic, just as soul food was slowly giving way to burgers and hotdogs.  In a way, this could be about memory and assimilation.  But to keep things simple, I’m going to write solely about Juneteenth.  Though to be honest, when I was a kid, I never heard the term Juneteenth.  What I remember is that we called the day Emancipation Day.


During those few years my family celebrated Emancipation Day, the reason for the celebration was simple:  It was to celebrate President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, by which he freed the slaves.  Or at least this is what my parents told me. It was many years later, when I was in college probably, that the Emancipation Proclamation became more complicated, and that Lincoln himself became more complicated.   And it was years later still before I understood the connection between Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth/Emancipation Day.

 After all, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, not in June.  Also, it turns out that the Proclamation really didn’t free anyone.  For one, the Proclamation did not apply to the 800,000 or so slaves that were in border states not in rebellion.  Second, since the states that were in rebellion no longer recognized the federal government, the Proclamation was mostly symbolic.  It wasn’t until the Confederate Army surrendered in April 1865 that slavery really came to an end.  An even then, there were holdouts, particularly in Texas.  There, slave owners continued to hold blacks in bondage, mostly by telling slaves that the war was still going on.  It wasn’t until Union General Gordon Granger road into Gavelston, Texas on June 19, 1865, and publicly announced that the South had lost the war, that the slaves knew they were in fact free.  Newly freed blacks dubbed the day Juneteenth, and began to annually celebrate their emancipation.  Eventually the celebration spread to other states, where it was sometimes called Emancipation Day.  Apparently the celebration reached its peak in the 1930s.  Since then, there have been periods of intense interest, and periods of little interest.

 Of course, freedom from slavery was only the start.  The Reconstruction Amendments purportedly ended slavery, granted citizenship rights to blacks, and mandated equal protection of the laws.  What followed in fact was a reign of white backlash against the newly freed slaves, and another century of de jure segregation.  In fact, in my article Rethinking the Fourth Amendment: Race, Citizenship, and the Equality Principle, I examine Fourth Amendment jurisprudence to question whether we have even fulfilled the promise of equal citizenship.

 Still, I think we should celebrate Juneteenth/Emancipation Day.  I’ll definitely open a Sam Adams tomorrow.  And fire up the BBQ.  I invite you to do the same.

Posted by Bennett Capers on June 18, 2010 at 09:41 AM | Permalink

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Comments

We honor our ancestors, Americans of African descent, who heard the news of freedom on the “19th of June”, 1865, and celebrated in the streets of Galveston, Texas. “None are free, until all are free!” Juneteenth is the celebration of the end of enslavement in America that we have embraced as African-Americans.

Juneteenth is America’s 2nd Independence Day celebration. 36 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or state holiday observance, as well as the District of Columbia and the Congress of the United States.
Join us in our efforts to make Juneteenth Independence Day a National Day of Observance, like Flag Day or Patriot Day.

Together we will see Juneteenth become a national holiday in America!

“DOC”
Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D.
Chairman
National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign
National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF)
National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council (NJCLC)
National Association of Juneteenth Jazz Presenters (NAJJP)
http://www.NationalJuneteenth.com

Posted by: Rev. Ronld V. Myers, Sr., M.D. | Jul 18, 2010 7:46:09 PM

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