June-what? Understanding the Historical Significance of Juneteenth

Google pays tribute to Juneteenth 2020

This morning was much like many during this Quarantine: I woke up, checked my social media accounts, e-mails and poured myself a cup of coffee. In these quiet moments I feel gratitude as I take my first sip of delicious French vanilla. Facing me, from my perch at the kitchen table, on the wall, hangs my bachelors degree in history. It’s a piece of paper that I paid thousands of dollars to be an accredited historian. I do not have my doctorate, in fact, I was encouraged by the chair person of history at my university that I should not pursue it because it was a lot of schooling and there was no guarantee that I would even become a professor or hired on full time.

My original plan was far from building this blog. When I first set out and created this blog six years ago, I did it as a means of leaving my family and friends something, an imprint of who I was and what I enjoyed for the inevitable day when I’m not here anymore. I’ve talked a lot about my anxiety, I’ve also spent arguably a lot of time reflecting on my inevitable end. Why is this introduction necessary? Because I originally had goals and aspirations to become a high school history teacher. Unfortunately, the obstacles to become one are much too unrealistic, unethical and expensive.

Imagine for one second, if you will, going in and paying close to $150 to take a test where you are timed. All the while focusing you can see the minutes and the seconds ticking down on the right side of the screen. So you do your best, you’ve studied after all, and alas you missed the passing score you need by three points. Initially you would think, ‘no big deal, I’ll look at what I got wrong and study harder next time’, the problem is that the Praxis is an unforgiving obstacle which doesn’t tell you what questions you got wrong. It offers zero guidance and it’s usually in favor of those who can retain useless information and great test takers.  After a while, this could bring down even the most confident person. Shelling out money simply to be told your just not good enough and we don’t fancy telling you why. Alrighty then!

That degree that hangs on my wall, is a daily symbol that sometimes the things we have so intricately planned for our life just don’t work out that way. It is also a daily symbol that when one door closes, another one will surely open. Sometimes the things we hold dear to our hearts, the things we are so certain we are going to do with our lives are not what we were meant to do with our lives at all. It took me the better part of two years to walk away. I am not someone who gives up easily, I am always willing to fight another day. One thing I am not willing to compromise is my self-esteem and self worth which were completely demolished and distorted during this period in my life. Today’s post, is a somber one, it highlights the struggles many African Americans faced since the very first Juneteenth. It is also an opportunity for me to teach you something I didn’t learn about until I was in college and probably wouldn’t have learned about unless I was a history major.  One of the many issues I have with the way schools are run here in the USA today is that so much of American history is left out of American classrooms. There’s an old saying, history books are written by the winners but who are the winners? Does anybody win when nobody is educated on the whole truth?

Around Twitter I have seen so many posts saying ‘I was this years old when I learned about Juneteenth.’ and holy guacamole is that sad! Americans, regardless of their racial background, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity should know the actual history of Juneteenth. So what is Juneteenth? I’m glad you asked!

Juneteenth is actually the oldest national commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It came about on this date (June 19th) in 1865 that Major General Granger of the Union army and his soldiers went down to Galveston, Texas to announce the Civil War was over and all enslaved African Americans were now free. Sadly, this announcement came two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s infamous Emancipation Proclamation ! President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into affect on New Year’s Day (January 1st) of 1863 but Texas basically chose to overlook it since there weren’t too many Union soldiers available to see to this new executive order being enforced.

Once General Robert E. Lee surrendered in April of 1865, the arrival of General Granger’s regiment to Texas, ensured that this executive order was no longer being ignored or rebelled against but enforced! Why it took President Lincoln’s executive order 2 1/2 years to be carried out is debated often amongst historians. Some believe that the messenger who was sent down to Texas was killed, others believe it was just deliberately ignored to maintain labor force on the plantations. My personal belief is that it was the latter. I believe Texas deliberately chose to ignore and look the other way with the new executive order. The idea of the messenger that was sent was killed (while not totally unbelievable) definitely raises some red flags on accuracy.

Think for a moment: If you were a Union general who sent one of your soldiers to deliver a message to a state which valued slavery that said slaves were now free and your messenger did not return, would that not be sketchy to you? The fact that we don’t know the name of this messenger and that there’s no actual historical backing that he was killed-it was merely speculation-tells me Texas got the message loud and clear but chose to ignore it.

So as General Granger and his men arrived in Texas one of the first things he enforced was General Order Number 3 which stated: “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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

As you can imagine, the jubilation and pure unfiltered shock amongst the newly freed African Americans was immediate and contagious. While some former slaves stayed on their plantations to navigate a new relationship with their former master now employer, as a now paid employee, others ran off as soon as word reached their ears about General Order Number 3. The celebration of Juneteenth is a reminder that even though President Lincoln had abolished slavery 2 1/2 years before it took a literal regiment to see to it that this new executive order was enforced everywhere. Holding Texans responsible for enforcing these laws reestablished United States’ authority in the newly rejoined southern states and ultimately freed all African Americans.

For so many of these newly freed slaves, The most logical destination was to go north where many of them sought to find real freedom. Juneteenth celebrates these challenges that these newly freed men and women faced in new territories. It navigated their struggles in finding their place in a society that saw them for so long as lesser than. June 19th was coined Juneteenth and celebrated earnestly by the decedents of freed African Americans as a time to spend with family, reflect on their past and pray for a brighter future.

When I look at the way our country is today, seeing the renewed vigor of the Black Lives Matter movement in marches on raising awareness and leading protests, there is no doubt that this Juneteenth will be very special. Even NFL football teams, such as the Carolina Panthers, have shown their respect for this little known holiday by closing their offices on this date. As for the question I posed above: If history is really written by the winners does anyone win if the true historical significance of a day isn’t remembered and shared?  I would say boldly, no. There are no winners when the citizens of a country remain uneducated about the historical significance of a day which impacted the lives of millions of African-Americans, particularly those in the southern states who cling to the abomination that was slavery as a means to control others deserving of human rights. Rather it’s a reminder, if you will, about how far we’ve come as a nation but also how much further we have to go to ensure that all men and women feel safe, equal, and valued within the country they call home.

If you’d like to learn more, be sure to check out these fabulous resources:

National Registry Juneteenth Organizations and Supporters

What I love about this site is it tells you not only the history but customs which those who celebrate have such as foods, clothing and the history of festivals which struggled to be celebrated in public places before the Civil Rights Movement.

What is Juneteenth?

PBS gives an in-depth timeline and historical walk through on Juneteenth and its impact on African Americans in this easy to read, highly educational article. Plus it’s PBS, which fondly taught us so much about our nation’s history in our youth so I’m not going to lie, it’s nostalgic too.

The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth

The Smithsonian is a historical accredited institution that has a wealth of information on all things historical. The post linked has a brief overview of Juneteenth as well as historical images which give information regarding regarding this lesser-known holiday.

I really hope you take the time to do your own research and learn about this historically important day. Wishing each and everyone of you a blessed Juneteenth! Have a wonderful day!

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