June 19, 2018 8:36 PM   Subscribe

On June 19th, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the United States Army arrived in Galveston, Texas. One of the orders he issued was GENERAL ORDER #3:
The people 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, become that between employer and hired labor.
What Is Juneteenth?, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
When Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued the above order, he had no idea that, in establishing the Union Army’s authority over the people of Texas, he was also establishing the basis for a holiday, “Juneteenth” (“June” plus “nineteenth”), today the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States. After all, by the time Granger assumed command of the Department of Texas, the Confederate capital in Richmond had fallen; the “Executive” to whom he referred, President Lincoln, was dead; and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was well on its way to ratification. But Granger wasn’t just a few months late. The Emancipation Proclamation itself, ending slavery in the Confederacy (at least on paper), had taken effect two-and-a-half years before, and in the interim, close to 200,000 black men had enlisted in the fight. So, formalities aside, wasn’t it all over, literally, but the shouting?

Juneteenth: 150 Years Ago, Black America Got Its Own Independence Day
There are conflicting explanations for the more than two-year delay of the news that slavery had ended in Texas. Among the possible reasons: Plantation owners withheld the news; federal troops allowed the delay so that slave owners could reap one final cotton harvest before the Emancipation Proclamation—which was issued on Jan. 1, 1863, to free the slaves in the Confederate South—was enforced; and a messenger who was on his way to Texas to deliver the news was murdered. Adding to the issue that made Texas the last holdout was that Union troops never made successful inroads against the Confederacy in that state.

Whatever the reason, June 19, 1865, is regarded as the day all enslaved people in the nation were finally free. “There were many emancipation days prior to June 19, 1865, in other states, but each of those days celebrated freedom while Texas still had enslaved people,” Galveston native Sam Collins tells The Root. “Galveston, Texas, represents the last place enslaved people were freed after the Civil War. It’s the day slavery finally ended everywhere in the United States, and we should celebrate that day.”
"I Am A Slave" - The Roots Meet Schoolhouse Rock - black-ish

One Woman's Quest To Make Juneteenth A National Holiday - Juneteenth Should Be A Federal Holiday

12 Things You Might Not Know About Juneteenth

Clint Smith "Spent Juneteenth rereading ads taken out by formerly enslaved ppl searching for their family. Freedom was often accompanied by so much grief"

Celebrating a Second Independence Day: A Juneteenth Reading List
posted by the man of twists and turns (26 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Why celebrating Juneteenth is more important now than ever - "It’s time for America to truly grapple with its legacy of slavery.

Juneteenth and the Detention of Children in Texas, Jelani Cobb
It’s convenient to think of these kinds of moral felonies as the prerogatives of the South. But, as the eminent historian Ira Berlin, who died earlier this month, pointed out in his book “The Long Emancipation,” based on a series of his lectures, the politics of freedom were fraught everywhere in the nation. In some Northern states, where a system of graduated emancipation had begun decades earlier—a person was manumitted upon reaching adulthood—slaveholders had a perverse incentive to sell off slaves while they were still children. Slave patrols often kidnapped free blacks in the North and sold them into bondage in the Southern states. In Washington, D.C., where emancipation was adopted in 1862, before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the federal government reimbursed slaveholders for the cost of their human property, which is to say that the only time that the United States paid reparations for slavery it did so to the benefit of white people. The boundaries surrounding slavery were not geographic; they were moral.

Juneteenth exists in this kind of cultural borderland, acknowledged by African-Americans, scarcely noticed by most whites, because embracing the date requires a willingness to countenance slavery’s legacy in this country. The American reticence to look at history directly has broader implications than the relative significance of June 19th on the calendar. The unconscionable, indefensible separation of children from their parents at the United States’s southern border has inspired widespread condemnation. A common refrain is that such actions are “un-American” and run counter to the nation’s values. Yet the separation of families has deep roots in the American past. It was not at all uncommon for children to be sold separately from their parents on the auction block. In fact, the sale of children was such a common feature of slavery that Daina Ramey Berry, a professor of history at the University of Texas, was able to construct a database of their pricing and sales history for her book “The Price for Their Pound of Flesh.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:38 PM on June 19, 2018 [20 favorites]

Researching the word earlier, the first example I could find was a book titled "Juneteenth" by J. Mason Brewer from 1932. I couldn't find the book in any libraries on Worldcat.
posted by dilaudid at 9:18 PM on June 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

It was de rigueur that Juneteenth was a holiday for black staff in Texas bar and restaurant...
posted by jim in austin at 9:22 PM on June 19, 2018

This past Sunday on Politics Nation Al Sharpton made the excellent point that Juneteenth was a more authentic American independence day to look to than July 4, 1776.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:53 PM on June 19, 2018 [10 favorites]

I grew up in San Antonio until I was seven and for years I thought Juneteenth was a holiday celebrated by black people and jewish people, because my congregation had a big picnic for it. It was like, the official best day at synagogue ever. When we moved out of state I was super confused that apparently this holiday didn't exist elsewhere and especially I remember trying to hamfistedly explain what Juneteenth was to my fellow small jewish kids in Sunday school that next summer, who straight up didn't believe me. And this was pre-internet so it wasn't like we could just look it up, either.

In retrospect there's something really evocative about all of that, but realistically right now it just makes me mad that Juneteenth is still so niche. Everybody should know about it, and why it happened and what it means for this country's relationship with oppression and power and trauma. And maybe that's a story best told over barbecue, to soften the blow and keep people too full to run away so quickly from the truth.
posted by Mizu at 10:53 PM on June 19, 2018 [41 favorites]

I feel like Juneteenth would be a perfect new national holiday. Have it be just as big as the 4th of July. Let's celebrate freedom for all!
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:23 AM on June 20, 2018 [12 favorites]

I agree with the point that Mizu is making in the second paragraph above. The ministers of my childhood church marched with Dr. King, so I was familiar with a lot of issues brought up by the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, but it wasn't until I became an adult that I first heard of Juneteenth. I was so outraged when I first heard about it. Two whole years of slavery after the Emancipation Proclamation! I already had a poor impression of Texas' race relations and this discovery did nothing to improve it.

I'm not sure whether Juneteenth is part of the school curriculum nowadays. There are local celebrations and remembrances here in my liberal West Coast city, but they are primarily held in African American communities. In the past I've gone to a storytelling event; tomorrow night there is a gospel event, but I haven't found anybody who wants to go with me. 7 p.m. with rush hour on a work night is a hard sell in my part of the world.: (

Thanks for the comprehensive list of articles and resources, the man of twists and turns.
posted by LeftMyHeartInSanFrancisco at 12:31 AM on June 20, 2018

Thank you for the great resources!
posted by greermahoney at 12:32 AM on June 20, 2018

It's insane that it's not a national holiday yet.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:22 AM on June 20, 2018 [9 favorites]

I grew up in Virginia and never learned about Juneteenth until I had moved to Missouri around 2000 or so. Now it's an official state holiday in Virginia, as of 2007, so it's cool to see that it's recognition has spread. I'm all on board for making a federal holiday.
posted by Atreides at 6:00 AM on June 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was in Atlanta for Juneteenth a couple of years ago. My friend lives a couple blocks away from the MLK Center, and we were lucky enough to be able to watch some Juneteenth celebrations firsthand. It was joyus and heartfelt, but also a little bittersweet. It's a shame more people don't know about the significance of the day.
posted by PearlRose at 6:03 AM on June 20, 2018

I'm against Juneteenth becoming an American national holiday, because America will fuck it up.

America has "honored" Martin Luther King, Jr., by turning his radical message into anodyne "Can't we all just get along" and making his holiday into another shopping weekend. And that doesn't even count the fact that what most of us think of as MLK Day is still "Robert E. Lee Day" or "Confederate Heroes Day" in several states.

Within five years, a national Juneteenth Day would be a three-day weekend where Republicans line up to "remind" us that it was the GOP that freed the slaves and you don't hear that in your liberal schools or on your mainstream media. White people would have parties celebrating how their ancestors fought against slavery, or weren't really fighting about slavery anyway, or were slaves themselves, so this is their day too. At best, the message of Juneteenth would be "You are free to buy a new car" or "Celebrate freedom responsibly -- don't drink and drive!"

It's not my holiday. I don't want it. I'll fuck it up.
posted by Etrigan at 6:11 AM on June 20, 2018 [21 favorites]

I couldn't find the book in any libraries on Worldcat.

Looks like it’s in the Harry Ransom Center At UT — Austin. It’s not very long, 46 pages, so I Suppose they might be willing to make it available online.

On further research, it’s on page 9 of Tone the Bell Easy, A collection of publications from the Texas folklore society — Available online at the University of North Texas https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc970111/

I include the URL, because searching for it on my phone is kind of a pain.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:16 AM on June 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I completely forgot to go have some red soda water.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:37 AM on June 20, 2018

LeftMyHeartInSanFrancisco: I'm not sure whether Juneteenth is part of the school curriculum nowadays.

I am 46 and white; I only even ever heard of it after I joined MetaFilter.

It took a while for it to bubble up in my brain as "I wonder what that is, anyway?" before I looked it up -- but it was immediately obvious why it wasn't more widely known. Oh, America...
posted by wenestvedt at 7:59 AM on June 20, 2018 [6 favorites]

I think I first heard of it from the African-American soldiers in my unit in Germany, about four years after college. It came up at lunch yesterday when one of my coworkers said, "Have you guys ever heard of this 'Juneteenth' thing?" A Michigander and a Seattleite hadn't, but another Michigander had but didn't really know anything about it.

I have occasionally wondered whether it's not learned about in schools because it's one of the few American holidays that almost never happens during school.
posted by Etrigan at 8:21 AM on June 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

I grew up in Houston in the 70s and 80s and only barely heard of Juneteenth then. Certainly me and my fellow rich white kids never celebrated it. What a shame.

I was reading stuff yesterday trying to understand the popular story about "it took two and a half years for news of emancipation to reach Texas". That's not really what happened though. The Emancipation Proclamation was effective January 1863, but did not take effect in Texas until June 1865. That's the two and a half years. But certainly the Emancipation Proclamation was known in Texas in those times; it's just Texas ignored it. And the Union Army wasn't there to enforce it. In fact Texas became a refuge for slavers, a bunch of slave owners fled the liberated parts of the south to Texas with their slaves to try to preserve their wealth.

Lee surrendered in April 1865, the news of that took a few weeks to reach Texas. Then it took a few more weeks for Granger and the Union Army to arrive and actually enforce emancipation.

One other tragic detail of history... the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to the traitor states. Some states like Kentucky and Delaware did not end slavery until December 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified.
posted by Nelson at 8:29 AM on June 20, 2018 [13 favorites]

Within five years, a national Juneteenth Day would be a three-day weekend where Republicans line up to "remind" us that it was the GOP that freed the slaves and you don't hear that in your liberal schools or on your mainstream media.

Your mistake was caring what Republicans think.
posted by DynamiteToast at 9:35 AM on June 20, 2018

I grew up in Texas in a liberal family. We celebrated Juneteenth. My grand father had a cross burnt in his field when I was about 5, 64 now, for hiring black field workers. This is a memory I wiil always have. The guys that worked for him taught us about Juneteenth.
posted by bjgeiger at 10:49 AM on June 20, 2018 [17 favorites]

> what most of us think of as MLK Day is still "Robert E. Lee Day" or "Confederate Heroes Day" in several states.

That site overstates the extensiveness of those "holidays" by quite a bit. For example, it claims that Confederate Memorial Day is a state holiday North Carolina, when it's nothing of the sort here: Nothing closes, no observances are made.
posted by ardgedee at 11:03 AM on June 20, 2018

It says "local observance" for North Carolina; I didn't cite "Confederate Memorial Day"; and do we really need to nitpick about how willfully shitty some places are about MLK Day in this story?
posted by Etrigan at 11:17 AM on June 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I learned about Juneteenth in seventh grade Texas History. Yes, we had to take an entire year of indoctrination, including all the revisionist bullshit about the Alamo, whitewashing origins behind the formation of the Texas Republic as a mechanism to enter the US as a slave state, and the rest of the heroic narrative horseshit. But Juneteenth was more than a paragraph and less than a chapter section, anyway. I remember thinking how odd it was that it took over two years for word to reach, but this wasn't really addressed satisfactorily by the teacher and was sort of waved off as "word traveled slow back then". People didn't want to address that it was just Texas authorities being dicks.

Anyway, I get how some can be conflicted about racist facists coopting Juneteenth, but fuck 'em. They'll do that to anything and everything anyway, so let's go ahead and celebrate this nice thing as widely as possible.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:26 AM on June 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Though I disagree, I understand why someone would be against making Juneteeth a holiday. July 4th happens during summer and it being Independence Day is obvious why that is well-known. But Labor Day also happens during summer break and I always knew about that holiday even as a kid. I often fall into the trap of letting perfection be the enemy of good, so I support Juneteenth for federal holiday status. Whenever I visit Thailand, for example, I am always struck by the numerous holidays they have there, on the national and regional level, and by stark contrast how few holidays we've got here in the USA. True, a lot of things suck about being poor and a laborer in Thailand, but they make time to enjoy some things in life, and time is finite.

Hmm. I side-eye the idea of fewer holidays regardless of geographical context. I myself can always use more time to ponder and remember that though I'm not White, I am living on stolen Native land that was built on the slave labor of Black peoples and families. Plus, the name and word JUNETEENTH is awesome.

Thank you for this post.
posted by one teak forest at 11:33 AM on June 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

At the very least of making Juneteenth a federal holiday - it allows the people who sincerely want to celebrate it a greater likelihood of being able to take off work to do so.
posted by Atreides at 1:19 PM on June 20, 2018 [10 favorites]

It allows some of the people who genuinely want to celebrate it the time off. Retail and hourly work doesn’t usually get national holidays off. And those jobs are disproportionately held by POC.
posted by LizBoBiz at 11:42 PM on June 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Most major retail places that I've worked would at least pay you time and a half on federal holidays.
posted by drezdn at 6:42 AM on June 21, 2018

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