Juneteenth | Ciara Leilani

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane shall we….

On June 19, 1865 an announcement was made that changed history— American history. A combination of the words “June” and “19th” —  Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of emancipation of enslaved people in Texas on June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by then President Abraham Lincoln—a Republican. Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after Republican President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — which became official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Gordon Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome resistance from the Democrats running the state. It is important to note, General Granger was a Republican who also believed black Americans should not be enslaved. Many black men were fighting along the same lines as the General and showed solidarity for the Union. 

The Emancipation Proclamation is significant because it legally ended slavery in the United States. On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that as of January 1, 1863, all enslaved people in the states currently engaged in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

Did you notice that? ALL enslaved people means ALL and those that were enslaved in the states, not the UNITED states. Why is this significant? Because at the time Republican President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, there was a Civil War going on. What was this war about? It stemmed from a struggle to preserve the Union then shifted to ending slavery, and set a decisive course for how the nation would be reshaped after that historic conflict. (please study the civil war in order to properly learn which side were freed blacks on)

Lincoln didn’t actually free any of the approximately 4 million men, women and children held in slavery in the United States when he signed the formal Emancipation Proclamation the following January. The document applied only to enslaved people in the Confederacy, and not to those in the border states that remained loyal to the Union. Most people do not know but President Lincoln despised slavery. He personally hated slavery, and considered it immoral. In his famous speech in Peoria, Illinois in 1854 he said,

If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal;’ and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.”

President Abraham Lincoln speech in Peoria, Illinois, in 1854.

Lincoln didn’t believe the Constitution gave the federal government the power to abolish slavery in the states where it already existed, only to prevent its establishment to new western territories that would eventually become states. In his first inaugural address in early 1861, he declared that he had “no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the States where it exists.” By that time, however, seven Southern states had already seceded from the Union, forming the Confederate States of America and setting the stage for the Civil War. 

So far, there is a Republican President desperate to abolish (end) the enslavement of black Americans. Following along?

Juneteenth, for many living above the Mason-Dixon line, in Virginia, did not have Juneteenth as part of their K–12 educational experience. This is significant because like now, there are evil actors trying to abolish history by rewriting and all together removing key parts of history from platforms like Google, Wikipedia, and other search engines in order to keep the citizenry ignorant or all together stupid. The narrative cannot be spun that Republicans are racists and is the party that enslaved black Americans if history remains easily accessible and readily available to learn. Let’s keep going..

Today, many Black Americans view this commemoration as an unofficial Independence Day, the day when all Black citizens of the nation were no longer legally or in practice enslaved persons.  Juneteenth — also known as “Freedom Day”, “Liberation Day”, or “Emancipation Day” — celebrates the end of the enslavement of people of African descent, primarily in the states of the former Confederacy. But it is also significant to the legal history of this country.

First, the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order, a legal power held solely by a sitting president of the United States of America and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. As with a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court or a bill passed into law by the U.S. Congress, an executive order becomes effective upon signature. This is one of the early lessons we learn in school about how laws are developed and implemented in this country.

An important fact often excluded from school curriculums is that the Emancipation Proclamation expressly granted freedom only to those enslaved people in the Confederate States, which included Texas. It did not bring relief to enslaved persons residing in border states that were loyal to the Union.

Second, the Emancipation Proclamation opened the doors to the 13th and 14th Amendments. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, and the 14th Amendment defines and identifies citizenship and the rights associated with citizenship. The relationship between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment rests in the notion of freedom and the rights and responsibilities of freedom.

The executive order (1) declares freedom for enslaved persons, (2) supports such freedom through the federal government and its military entities, and (3) prevents the dissolution of such freedom, stating it “will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” The relationship between the executive order and the 14th Amendment is connected to the equal protection clause as well as a specific area affiliated with citizenship: serving in the military. President Lincoln declared that freed persons “will be received into the armed service of the United States…” Lincoln also makes one responsibility clear to freed people:

“I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence…”

The Emancipation Proclamation of 1963

The proclamation notes that freedom shall not be repressed. This is what I believe to be the primary significance of Juneteenth. While President Lincoln clearly declares twice in this document that all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a state shall be free, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the surrender at Appomattox Court House, slavery remained unchanged in Texas. Why? To answer this let me give you a little Texas history. 

The Texas Republican Party was formed on July 4, 1867, in Houston by 150 black and 20 white Texans. Two of the first three statewide leaders of the Republican Party of Texas were black.The first 42 blacks elected to the Texas Legislature were Republicans.

When the Republicans became the majority in the Texas Legislature in 1869, they established a system of free public schools to educate all the children of the State— something Democrats had refused to do. The first faith-based program was proposed in the 1870’s by black Republican Senator Matthew Gaines. When Democrats recaptured Texas government in 1872, Democrat Governor Richard Coke’s election was described as “the restoration of white supremacy.” Catch that? A Democrat Governor who reclaimed the governorship was able to successfully restore white supremacy. It was only 10 years prior that Juneteenth even happened. Unfortunately the Democrat party was desperate to regain power by any means necessary. 

General Granger then traveled around Texas to inform the African-Americans, still being held as slaves by their masters, that they were in fact free. The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former ‘masters’ — attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many, it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove some into Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. 

Soon after, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Yes he was killed by an individual who represented the opposing party, the Democrat party. After Lincoln’s assassination, Democrat Andrew Johnson became President and did all within his power to prevent blacks from experiencing Lincoln’s new birth of freedom. Since General Granger was a zealous advocate for full civil rights for African-Americans, President Andrew Johnson relieved Granger from his command in Texas on August 6, 1865, just six weeks after his arrival. 

President Andrew Johnson campaigned against ratification of the 14th Amendment and vetoed the Republicans’ Civil Rights Act of 1866. Andrew Johnson squashed Republican attempts to provide ‘forty acres and a mule’ to emancipated African Americans. Andrew Johnson vetoed a bill to extend voting rights to African Americans in the District of Colunmbia, saying he wanted a completely ‘white man’s government’ Southern Democrats exercised almost complete control over the post-Civil War South for two years after Appomattox. The Democrat state governments set-up by the Andrew Johnson administration quickly reduced blacks to near slavery with the infamous ‘black codes.’ Not until March 1867, when they attained two-thirds majorities in Congress, were Republicans able to override Johnson’s vetoes and enact their Reconstruction policies, beginning with the Reconstruction Act of 1867.

As soon as they were back in power in the southern states, Democrats closed down most of the public school systems that Republican administrations had established for blacks, as well as poor whites. Democrat-oriented terrorist organizations, such as the Klu Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia, denied African Americans their right to vote. In the South, where dozens of African Americans had held elective office while Republicans were in power at the state level, the restoration of Democrat rule excluded African Americans from politics.

The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date. Celebrations may include parades, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, and/or Miss Juneteenth pageants.

In the early years, little interest existed outside the African American community in participation in the celebrations. In some cases, there was outwardly exhibited resistance by barring the use of public property for the festivities. Most of the festivities found themselves out in the rural areas around rivers and creeks that could provide for additional activities such as fishing, horseback riding, and barbecues. Often the church grounds was the site for such activities. Eventually, as African Americans became land owners, land was donated and dedicated for these festivities. One of the earliest documented land purchases in the name of Juneteenth was organized by Rev. Jack Yates. This fund-raising effort yielded $1,000 and the purchase of Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas. 

In Mexia, Texas, the local Juneteenth organization purchased Booker T. Washington Park, which had become the Juneteenth celebration site in 1898. There are accounts of Juneteenth activities being interrupted and halted by white landowners demanding that their laborers return to work. However, it seems most allowed their workers the day-off and some even made donations of food and money. For decades these annual celebrations flourished, growing continuously with each passing year. In Booker T. Washington Park, as many as 20,000 African Americans once flowed through during the course of the week, making the celebration one of the state’s largest.

Economic and cultural forces provided for a decline in Juneteenth activities and participants beginning in the early 1900’s. Classroom and textbook education in lieu of traditional home and family-taught practices stifled the interest of the youth due to less emphasis and detail on the activities of former slaves. Classroom text books proclaimed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclaimation of January 1, 1863 as the date signaling the end of slavery — and little or nothing on the impact of General Granger’s arrival in Galveston on June 19th, 1865. More proof that some evil actors continue to slowly remove history in documented forums. 

Now, Critical Race Theory has become the new indoctrination that wicked leaders are attempting to implement in order to further divide Americans. This evil has permeated throughout history since America’s founding. 

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition.  And on June 18, 2021 it became an official federal holiday.

Juneteenth is a profoundly important day for black Americans, historically. Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing. Juneteenth is intractably part of the Republican Party’s rich legacy of freedom — which defines what the Republican Party believes. The Republican Party has always been a party advancing a liberty agenda— not liberal agenda, one that promotes upward mobility through self-sufficiency. The party has always stood for limited government as demanded by our Constitution, one that promotes the liberties of our nation’s citizens, regardless of race, creed, or color. 

I hope knowledge of this historical moment in our country has enriched your experience as a citizen of this country and has reaffirmed the tremendous growth we have experienced as a nation. Let’s continue to make progress and stand our ground as it is indeed a sign of freedom.

Happy Juneteenth!

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