I have not done a Black History Fun Fact in a while because the book requires my time. Soon, I’d like you to have a complete Black History book to read.
For now, with Juneteenth around the corner, I thought this would be a great time to revisit the article below. It was originally published June of 2018 and then updated again last year (’21)
Many Black Americans are replacing their fourth of July celebrations with Juneteenth. For many, this day is a celebration of freedom. Although, even after Juneteenth, many Blacks were still enslaved and suffering.
Born on February 12, 1809, near Hodgenville, Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln is most famous for preserving the Union during the American Civil War and bringing about the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.
However, before he wrote the esteemed Emancipation Proclamation, several efforts were made to preserve the Union without freeing the enslaved. These efforts included Colonization, or the idea that a majority of the African American population should leave the United States and settle in Africa or Central America.
On August 14, 1862, five years after The Dred Scott Decision that reiterated Blacks were not, and as “a second class of persons,” could not be citizens, Abraham Lincoln hosted a “Deputation of Free Negroes” event at the White House. Led by the Rev. Joseph Mitchell, commissioner of emigration for the Interior Department, it was the first time African Americans had been invited to the White House to weigh in on a political matter.
Lincoln planned to produce a document that would not only free some of the enslaved but, once freed, call on them to leave the country voluntarily. This idea, Lincoln’s Panama Plan, was not new but had been circulating among white racists, elites, and eugenicists since the 1700s.
“In 1816, a group of white enslavers and politicians in Washington, D.C. created the American Colonization Society (A.C.S.) to promote the removal of free Black people, who would be encouraged to leave the United States and resettle in West Africa.” A.C.S. and its many chapters hoped this would rid them of free Black people while preserving slavery.
-The 1619 Project, pg. 23
These organizations did not only speak on Colonization, but the U.S. government allocated much money for its implementation. In April 1862, Congress passed the District of Columbia Act, emancipating enslaved persons in Washington and appropriating $100,000 to resettle “such free persons of African descent now residing in said District, including those liberated by this act, as may desire to emigrate.”
To make a long story short, Lincoln’s original plan was to have a document that, while freeing some enslaved people, also required those freedmen to, sum up, “go back to Africa.”
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, to end slavery in the States that were in Rebellion. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
“The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to slave states that weren’t in rebellion; Kentucky, Delaware, Missouri, and Maryland. It also didn’t apply to territories. It didn’t apply to Tennessee, lower Louisiana, and the counties of Virginia that were to become West Virginia.”
With the passing of the 13th Amendment in January of 1865, slavery was officially deemed illegal in America, freeing all people enslaved.
Well. Wait, except the people in Texas and other places.
Many Texas men, women, and children were still being held in bondage and did not know that slavery was over.
News of the supposed emancipation did not spread as quickly as the movies would have us to believe. Many slave-owners packed up their belongings and moved to Texas in mass.
“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.”
-Henry Louis Gates Jr.
More than 150,000 enslaved people had made the trek west, according to historian Leon Litwack in his book Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery. As one former enslaved person recalled, “it looked like everybody in the world was going to Texas.” For the next two years, the enslaved would live removed from the updates of the war, and slavery would go on, business as usual.
These men, women, and children were still enslaved until June 19, 1865. Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended.
This, the freeing of the enslaved in Texas, is the reason many Black Americans celebrate Juneteenth instead of July 4th as their National Independence Day.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor.
The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
The language of this decree is important. Enslaved people are being told they are free two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
They are also being told that they must remain at their present homes (the plantation) and work (continue slave labor) for “wages.” And that any “idleness,” among them won’t be tolerated.
Much like the Emancipation Proclamation, this order also did not free all enslaved persons.
“There is much evidence to suggest that southern whites—especially Confederate parolees—perpetrated more acts of violence against newly freed bondspeople in Texas than in other states,” writes historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner in an essay titled “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory.”
“Between the Neches and Sabine rivers and north to Henderson,” she continues, “reports showed that blacks continued in a form of slavery, intimidated by former Confederate soldiers still in uniform and bearing arms.” Murder, lynching, and harassment were common. “You could see lots of Negroes hanging from trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom,” reported one freed slave, “They would catch them swimming across Sabine River and shoot them.”
African Americans celebrated their freedom with the first official Juneteenth event in 1866, where they read the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and praised Abraham Lincoln (who repeatedly said his intent was not to abolish slavery but to save the union) as the “great liberator.”
“Free them and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not.”
– Abraham Lincoln, August 21, 1858
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.”
– Abraham Lincoln, Letter addressed to Horace Greeley, Washington, August 22, 1862
The celebrations continued until coming to a halt with the institution of Black Codes and, eventually, Jim Crow.
These laws essentially put Blacks back into a form of slavery where they were fully disenfranchised. After the Civil War and the end of slavery, southern states, which had amassed great wealth from slavery, found their economy in shambles. They had to figure out how to keep a slave-like system going.
Black Codes were laws created to limit the rights of African Americans. They subjected them to criminal prosecution for “offenses” such as loitering, breaking curfew, vagrancy, having weapons, and not carrying proof of employment. These were the same “offenses” that would get enslaved people whipped or sold during slavery.
For example, the enslaved could not travel from place to place without a pass signed by their owner. Those without such a pass could be arrested, jailed, and detained as a runaway. Some owners wrote general passes allowing their slaves to “pass” and “repass.”
Black Codes included Pig Laws that unfairly penalized poor African Americans for crimes such as stealing a pig. It was also a crime to be unemployed.
These laws could be imposed on Black men easily, sending them to jail, and thus, former slave owners turned “entrepreneurs” could lease them to various companies that would work them to death and treat them like they were slaves. This made the states tons of money.
In 1883, about ten percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from convict leasing. In 1898, nearly 73 percent of total revenue came from this same source. Death rates among leased convicts were approximately ten times higher than the death rates of prisoners in non-lease states. In 1873, for example, 25 percent of all black leased convicts died.
The laws passed in Texas were similar to those passed in every other Confederate state. Modern-day politicians often make comparisons to Jim Crow as one of the worst periods in African American life.
Jim Crow didn’t have shit on the Black Codes, which was the South’s attempt to recreate enslavement and go back to business as usual. Mass incarceration isn’t a recent invention; during the Black Codes, Black people could do little without running afoul of the law with the penalty being sent back to the fields if they weren’t already there.
William Spivey, Why Celebrate Juneteenth and What Did It Accomplish
Juneteenth didn’t make a full resurgence until The Civil Rights Movement when Blacks began to celebrate it fully again. And while many Blacks have celebrated it for centuries, it still did not become an official Holiday until 1980, when it was made a Texas State Holiday.
Still, it wasn’t until 1997 that Congress recognized June 19 as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” after pressure from a collection of groups like the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage and the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation.
As of today, June of 2021, Juneteenth is now a National Federal Holiday.
But the question remains, what exactly did Juneteenth accomplish for the Black man, woman, and child? What freedom did it bring about? Some sum it up this way:
“Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future.
Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.” – https://juneteenth.com/
But, Spivey brings out another good point worth considering:
“Texas after Juneteenth wasn’t an anomaly. Slavery continued to go on in states in the South, North, and West. In some cases, for several years. Slavery still existed in other parts of the United States and did so until the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865, and beyond.
Slavery still existed in Delaware and Kentucky, which resisted all Union attempts to end slavery and refused to ratify the 13th Amendment. In California, slavery was sort of outlawed in 1850 as a condition for statehood. The exception was slaves who had been brought to California and where the possibility they might return one day to their original home existed, even if that state had voted to ratify the 13th Amendment.
New Jersey had as many as 400 people remain slaves long after Juneteenth. Oregon’s provisional government banned slavery in 1844 but forbade free black people from settling in the territory. Settlers continued to bring slaves with them. General Joseph Lane, a former territorial governor, kept at least one slave on his farm until 1878, 13 years after the passage of the 13th Amendment.”
It is true Blacks were not free on July 4, 1776. But it is also true many Blacks were not free on June 19, 1865, either.
As many African Americans celebrate and reflect this weekend on what this day means to them, there is certainly much to think about.
For now, it is important to understand that Juneteenth did nothing to restore land or citizenship rights to the 40 million newly freed Blacks. Immediately after African Americans in Texas were freed from chattel slavery in June of 1865, they were required to have labor contracts, and many Blacks returned to their former slave-owners.
Speaking of Freedom, this is a great time to dive into The Stella Trilogy if you have not already! Below is the link to book one. Enjoy!
In book one, Cynthia McNair and her boyfriend, Alex, express some racists’ feelings toward blacks. They visit Cynthia’s Grandmother Sidney McNair, who recounts the story of her ancestor, a slave named Stella Mae. Cynthia has no idea of her African ancestry or how deep this rabbit hole goes.