Slavery has always been a contradiction in the American cultural matrix. As the United States affirmed its independence and sovereignty, the humanists that were involved in constructing the Declaration of Independence asserted our collective human-centered prerogatives. As such, the Declaration of Independence reads in part that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
In grappling with the need to ensure the viability of the Union, in January 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation – a statement of philosophical and political ideology that was not approved by the United States congress. The proclamation assumed limited causality in preserving the Union while upholding the humanitarian clause of the Declaration of Independence. In part, the Emancipation Proclamation denotes: Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit: That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
Interestingly enough, the Emancipation Proclamation was only applicable to states that had seceded from the Union (The Confederate States) – and Texas was one such confederate state.
The end of the Civil War in 1865 did not proffer an end to chattel slavery; in particular, chattel slavery did not find an end in Texas despite the spirit of The Declaration of Independence or the Emancipation Proclamation. As such, federal enforcement of the spirit of the Emancipation Proclamation was deemed necessary and proper. On June 19th, 1865, nearly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted via presidential decree, Union General Gordon Granger landed on Galveston Bay, Texas with roughly two-thousand Union Troops to enforce the Proclamation. While on Galveston Bay, General Granger read General Order #3 from the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, which stated the following: The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, “all slaves as free.” This involves an absolute equality of personal 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 quietly at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness there or elsewhere.
The ensuing celebration –a full two and half years after The Emancipation Proclamation abolished chattel slavery – by the newly freed men, women and children would serve as the origins of what is called Juneteenth.
Currently, Juneteenth is an annual celebration on June 19th, and it signifies, among other things, the rendering obsolete of slavery in the state of Texas, and generally, the emancipation of blacks or African Americans from slavery (The 13th Amendment to The United States Constitution would formally abolish slavery in the United States). The date of June 19th is marked by special observance or state-holiday status by more than forty-states and the District of Columbia.
June 19th continues to be a day of celebration for African-American freedom, perseverance and achievement in the United States. It is a celebration of the best of humanity; it symbolizes the victory of humanity over the complexities of chattel slavery in the United States. Juneteenth is a reminder that human beings, however conflicted, can find their way to a liberated heart and mind; it is also a constant reminder that freedom is never free.