June 20, 2020
Yesterday was Juneteenth. This national celebration marks the commemoration of the end of slavery in America. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. It proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the ten Confederate states still in rebellion. It also decreed that freed slaves could be enlisted in the Union Army, increasing the Union’s available manpower. What is rarely discussed is it did not apply to the rest of the states, including those in the North. However, it did change the focus of the struggle from preserving the union, to a dual aim of union and freeing the slaves.
Even after the War, Texas continued to be a haven for slave holders, as there were few Federal troops to enforce the law and slave owners were not prone to tell their slaves of their freedom. It was not until June 19, 1865 and the arrival of General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas with 2000 troops that news of the end of the war and freedom for slaves was announced. While there were earlier celebrations, Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas in 1980. To date 46 states and the District of Columbia celebrate this holiday. This has become a day to recognize the end of slavery and to celebrate the culture and achievements of African Americans.
During the nightly news, the celebrations around the country were highlighted. Then at the 7 o’clock hour CBS had the first ever coverage of the history, purpose, and stories of African American’s 155-year fight against racism. Much of what I saw I was already aware of, but like so many things we think we understand, there were new insights. In college I learned two specifics about history: that it is written by the winners, and that three witnesses will provide three different stories. That is why joining the conversation is so important, everyone brings a different reality.
THOUGHTS: The first I heard of the Black Wall Street massacre in Tulsa was earlier this year. I received a graduate degree in the history of the four decades around the turn of the twentieth century and this was never a topic of conversation. I got an inkling of this riot from the series, The Watchmen, that was set in a stylized version of Tulsa. I have later learned most of the information about these two days and the 300 lives lost was covered up and suppressed. Pushing something underground usually results in a resurface at the most inopportune time. If you can, work to keep the conversation going.