Juneteenth – The Road to Freedom
Kentucky’s observance of Juneteenth was ordered by proclamation in 2005. Here is the text of the proclamation http://www.nationaljuneteenth.com/Kentucky.html. The following is a history of the story of emancipation and freedom from slavery.
One of the biggest misconceptions in American history is that the Union fought the Civil War to free the slaves and that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued to free the slaves. This perception has resulted from the failure of education to teach anything but White man’s political history for over a Century in this country. I wrote my first novel (The Peacemaker) in retirement from 25 years of teaching American history in public schools all over the country in an effort to dispel these myths. This is why I continue writing and teaching and making presentations such as this all over the country in retirement.
What were the real issues in regard to the fighting of the American Civil War? The Civil War was an economic war between two powerful entities that controlled the American economy from the time of the establishment of the United States in 1787. These two entities were the industrial magnets of the North and the plantation owners of the South. Neither of these entities represented the common man or even those bound by slavery or forced removal from their ancestral lands in order to make room for one of these two economies and thus control the great wealth available for only a few of the ruling members controlling each region.
The rich plantation owners of the Confederacy (10% of the population) were able to convince the poor whites living in the area that their cause to protect their “way of life” was important enough to die to the last man. The industrialists of the North did not succeed in doing so causing great resistance to the War to preserve the Union after two years of nothing but a blood bath with nothing in return. In fact, the Irish-immigrants in the Northern centers soon began to call this War a “rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.” They had lost the will to fight and even began to resent the large numbers of African-Americans filling the contraband camps in the North who were not taking part in the fight. Lincoln was running out of both men and materials by September of 1862 as the Union armies fought the invading forces of the South at Antietam Creek outside of Maryland. This one day battle was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War with the Union losses at 12,000 and the Confederate losses at 13,000. The Southern forces were loyal to the last man, but Union troops were not willing to suffer such terrible losses. The Union desperately needed a victory to keep support for the War and Congress was talking about passing a Conscription Act (draft) in order to supply more “cannon fodder.”
When the Battle of Antietam ended in a draw with the Confederates simply moving back instead of surrendering, Lincoln decided this was the time for an act that would turn the tide of war with a Confederate surrender, or keep the British and French from coming into the War on the side of the Confederacy and give him the power to conscript Black soldiers into the conflict – thus preventing a Conscription Act. The failure of the Emancipation Act to stop the War led to the passage of the Conscription Act in March of 1863 resulting in three days of Draft Riots in New York City (described in The Peacemaker) during which the African-American population suffered great loss. The document issued by Abraham Lincoln in September of 1862 was the Act Lincoln chose to accomplish the afore mentioned. That document became known as the Emancipation Proclamation and was the basis of the now nationwide observance of Freedom Day more commonly called Juneteenth.
The Emancipation Proclamation was not an act of Congress; it was an Executive Order. In 1862 the Presidential use of Executive Orders was far more limited than it is today. The power to issue an Executive Order was supposed to be restricted to times of national emergencies when the President had to act swiftly as Commander-in-Chief to protect national security because there was no time for Congress to debate a law. Read the full text of the Proclamation at this link: http://www.historynet.com/emancipation-proclamation-text The text lists the 10 states covered by the Proclamation.
The actions of these 10 states after the issuing of the Proclamation is what led to freedom of the slaves in those states. The governments of these states kept fighting, therefore the slaves were free but emancipation did not happen until federal troops marched into the states and took control. If the South had surrendered, the slaves would not have been freed there. Lincoln realized after issuing the Proclamation that Congress needed to act to end slavery all together in this country because the slaves in the five Border States as well as the slaves in the District of Columbia were not affected by the Proclamation. Congress had passed the Compensated Emancipation Act in April of 1862. This Act freed all the slaves living in the District of Columbia. Therefore, April 16th is a state holiday celebrated each year in the District of Columbia. Other celebrations commemorating Freedom Day take place in Florida on May 20th, and Puerto Rico on March 22nd. The most common nationwide celebration of freedom is the celebration known as Juneteenth.
The celebration known as Juneteenth is a corruption of the words June and nineteenth. June 19th is the day in 1865 when General Granger marched his federal forces into Galveston, Texas and declared that the slaves were free under the conditions of the Emancipation Proclamation. As the news reached the slave communities, a free Black man who owned property in Galveston donated the property and declared that it be named Emancipation Park where June 19th would be celebrated each year with reading of the documents of freedom (Emancipation Proclamation and eventually the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments), picnics and family reunions. There were street fairs, rodeos and singing of traditional songs of freedom such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”- one of the spirituals sung by slaves to pass along information about when a guide for the Underground Railroad such as Harriet Tubman was in the area.
The celebration grew as former slaves moved from the South into urban centers of the North during the 1920’s and 30’s taking the celebration with them. One interesting celebration of Juneteenth takes place in Coahuila, Mexico. The mascogos or Black Seminoles fled to Mexico after the forced removal to the Indian Territory in 1832. Runaway slaves fled to Florida and had married into the Seminole population so after the removal of the Indian population to Oklahoma in 1832, this mixed population fled to Mexico to avoid being put into slavery. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/mascogas.
Since the slaves of the Border States were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln realized that the passage of an Amendment to the Constitution would be needed to put an end to slavery the United States once and for all. In January, 1865 the surrender of the South appeared eminent, so Lincoln decided to push Congress into proposing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that would end slavery. The Amendment did not become law until December of 1865 when the 30 of 36 states ratified the Amendment ending slavery. Lincoln did not live to see that. In another paradox of history, Kentucky did not ratify the 13th Amendment. The main reason the amendment passed was because one of the requirements for reentry into the Union for the Confederate States was ratification of the 13th Amendment. Since the slaves in Kentucky had not been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, it would be 140 years before the celebration became recognized in Kentucky.
The movement for a national celebration of Juneteenth began after the Poor People’s March on Washington in August of 1963 when the story of Juneteenth was shared with people from all over the country who converged upon Washington, D.C. The marchers took the celebrations back to their home states and in 1994 Christian leaders from all over the country met in New Orleans , LA to lobby Congress to pass a law to declare Juneteenth as National Independence Day for African-Americans similar to July 4th to allow for time off from work. Congress never enacted such a law, but state lawmakers encouraged their states to either establish Juneteenth as a state holiday or at least a state observance. As of 2012, 41 states and the District of Columbia passed legislation to officially recognize Juneteenth National Independence Day. Kentucky passed a resolution on June 20, 2005 to set the 19th of June of each year to be observed as Juneteenth National Freedom Day.”
Further reading on the historical context in which the Emancipation Proclamation was written can be found in “The Peacemaker,” by Brenda Duffey at http://kentuckywoman.net. A short story entitled “Juneteenth” that is part of a collection of short stories by Brenda Duffey can be found in “Finding New Pangaea” available on amazon.com.