"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?"
June 19, 2019 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Today is Juneteenth: The Black American Holiday Everyone Should Celebrate but Doesn’t, Jamelle Bouie
What Is Juneteenth, How Is It Celebrated, and Why Does It Matter?, Jameelah Nasheed - " In Texas, approximately 250,000 people were still being held in slavery when, on June 19, 1865, Union troops, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston to announce that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free."

Jelani Cobb, twitter:
Some things worth remembering on Juneteenth: Texas’ size and isolation allowed slavers to keep knowledge of Emancipation from the enslaved. Large slaveholders in coastal areas also moved enslaved people around the state to avoid the Union Army & therefore Emancipation.
Juneteenth, History and Tradition

title is the common title of Frederick Douglass' speech The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro, delivered at Rochester, New York, July 5, 1852
posted by the man of twists and turns (23 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
 
I visited the Lincoln Cottage in DC this spring which is where he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation and it was surprisingly moving just to be in the same room where that was written.
posted by octothorpe at 11:08 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Sorry to veer offtopic, but how as a society do we go about revising holidays? Clearly, Juneteenth should be a national holiday, but I see no way to take less relevant days (looking at you Columbus day) and shift to a day more worthy of celebration.

I'm a Canadian and our calendar is full with holidays no one cares about (Queen Victorias Birthday) and yet days we should celebrate (Terry Foxes birthday, Indigenous Peoples Day) are left in the cold.

There needs to be a mechanism to remedy this.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:16 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]


Juneteenth is a wonderful holiday and I'm glad to see its celebration spread.

But I'm troubled by the narrative around it that June 19 1865 was the day that "news of emancipation reached Texas". The emancipation proclamation was 2.5 years earlier, the news of that had surely reached any Texan with access to a newspaper. Of course being a traitor state Texas ignored the law, but they couldn't have all been ignorant of it. My understanding is the real story is June 19 is when enough Union troops arrived in Texas to actually enforce emancipation.

I just hate the idea that somehow Texans who kept slaves were blameless because they just hadn't heard the news they weren't supposed to.

OTOH my understanding of this puts me at odds with Jelani Cobb, the scholar, as quoted above. About slavers keeping knowledge of Emancipation from the enslaved. Is there more written about that? Were some slaves in the Civil War so isolated they didn't even know their federal government had made them free, at least on paper? Is there more written about that I could read?
posted by Nelson at 11:29 AM on June 19 [11 favorites]


The emancipation proclamation was 2.5 years earlier, the news of that had surely reached any Texan with access to a newspaper.

Henry Louis Gates had a pretty good article about why the date is what it is. Basically Texans who were keeping people enslaved were afraid of penalties for freeing their enslaved people, absent someone from government telling them it was okay. This is angering to someone with modern sensibilities, but the entire legalistic framework that surrounded the institution of slavery spent decades if not nearly centuries building that structure of fear.
posted by jessamyn at 11:36 AM on June 19 [14 favorites]


I'd say "everybody celebrate it until it becomes a thing," but I'm not sure how I as a white person should celebrate Juneteenth, and especially how to avoid any sort of unwarranted sense of "Mission Accomplished." Maybe write your congresspeople and tell them this needs to be a national holiday?
posted by straight at 11:36 AM on June 19


I'm not sure how I as a white person should celebrate Juneteenth

I'm spending it basically reminding self-congratulatory Vermonters that even though our state constitution as originally written outlawed the practice of slavery, realistically people moved into the state still with enslaved people in their households and this was basically allowed and that is garbage and so we still have (many) things to answer for, than and now.
posted by jessamyn at 11:38 AM on June 19 [15 favorites]




I just read that Henry Louis Gates article and I would not interpret it as saying slave owners delayed due to fear of government penalties due to incorrectly freeing slaves.
posted by bdc34 at 12:04 PM on June 19


I see no way to take less relevant days (looking at you Columbus day) and shift to a day more worthy of celebration.

Part of the answer here is "legally" - my home state of Maine is one of six states in the country to legally change Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day. This happened because first municipalities did it, then groups drafted legislation for the state to do it, and lobbied their legislators to sponsor and vote for this legislation.

Looking at how MLK's birthday became a Federal holiday in the US in an instructive guide to how these things take place. In that case, they started with the city of New York and it expanded from there.

It looks like in Canada there is currently a movement to make September 30 a statutory holiday to to commemorate the experiences of indigenous residential-school students, as well as a second movement to establish National Indigenous Peoples’ Day in June.

So, start local. Build a coalition and ask your local city or town to establish a day. Then grow your movement from there.

FYI, I didn't see this mentioned in the post, but there is a movement to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday. It is already a legally recognized "observance" in about 40 states plus DC, and in 2018 Apple added it as an option for iOS calendars.
posted by anastasiav at 12:10 PM on June 19 [11 favorites]


I had always heard General Kirby Smith refused to surrender Texas even after Lee’s surrender ended the war. So it was not that word of the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t reach Texas, but that the slaveholders and Confederate forces in the state refused to comply with the law until Union troops actually went down to Texas and forced a full surrender, and that’s what the gap of time is about.
posted by sallybrown at 12:13 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


I would not interpret it as saying slave owners delayed due to fear of government penalties due to incorrectly freeing slaves.

Agreed, sorry to be unclear, I think it was a convenient fig leaf they could use for CYA purposes while still continuing to do the thing they wanted to continue doing anyhow.
posted by jessamyn at 12:17 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


"and in 2018 Apple added it as an option for iOS calendars"

I was wondering why there were two copies of it on my calendar. I must've added it along with Tau Day and others to my personal holiday calendar before Apple added it to theirs. This concludes my holiday hipster humblebrag.
posted by hyperbolic at 12:35 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I'm troubled by the narrative around it that June 19 1865 was the day that "news of emancipation reached Texas". The emancipation proclamation was 2.5 years earlier

The Emancipation Proclamation states that “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.”
Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union (United States) military victory.
So as a practical matter the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the Confederacy when the areas they lived in came under the control of the Union, and that's what happened in Galveston on June 19, 1865.
The tidings of freedom reached the approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas gradually as individual plantation owners informed their slaves over the months following the end of the war
Texas was pretty isolated from most of the Confederacy after the Union captured Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, to gain control of the entire Mississippi River.

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. Congress passed it on January 31, 1865, and it was ratified on December 6, 1865.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:43 PM on June 19 [8 favorites]


I had always heard General Kirby Smith refused to surrender Texas even after Lee’s surrender ended the war.

Pretty much.
News of the surrender of Lee and other Confederate generals east of the Mississippi finally reached Texas around April 20. Local Confederate authorities had mixed opinions on their future course of action. Most senior military leaders vowed to press on with the war, including commanding general Kirby Smith.
...
News of Joseph E. Johnston's [April 26] and Richard Taylor's [May 4] surrenders confirmed that Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas were now essentially alone to continue the Confederate cause. On May 14, troops in Galveston briefly mutinied, but were persuaded to remain under arms. However, morale continued to sink. Generals John B. Magruder and Kirby Smith (who had already corresponded with Union Maj. Gen. John Pope regarding surrender terms on May 9) no longer sought to rally their demoralized troops, but rather began discussing the distribution of Confederate government property.
...
On June 2, [Smith] formally surrendered what was left of the Army of the "Trans-Mississippi".
posted by kirkaracha at 12:50 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Perhaps tangential, but interesting: Terroir Noire: African American Foodways in Slavery, Texas, by Michael Twitty. "After slavery enslaved people began to recall and re-construct their experience through the celebration of Juneteenth. The practice of eating red foods—red cake, barbecue, punch and fruit– may owe its existence to the enslaved Yoruba and Kongo brought to Texas in the 19th century."
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:20 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


red foods—red cake, barbecue, punch and fruit

Red soda water > red punch.

I'm "cheating" by drinking cherry infused coconut water instead.
posted by fuse theorem at 4:46 PM on June 19


There needs to be a mechanism to remedy this.
I believe they have a mechanism in Canada and here in the states. It is called “politics.” The same way we got other holidays.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:32 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Clint Smith, who is one of the three or four best things about Twitter, had a two-post thread on this today. Here's the first; the second and the comments are worth your time.
Spent today in Galveston, TX where Juneteenth originated & sat w/ppl in the same building where freedom had been announced 154 yrs ago. When they read the proclamation aloud & reached the part saying “all slaves are free” ppl were shaking. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
posted by martin q blank at 7:17 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


a) Juneteenth is awesome and if you are not invited to Juneteenth barbecues you must expand your friend group until you are;

b) my friend's kid had to tell his second-grade teacher what Juneteenth is and why it matters and now she is going mama wolverine on the school about it (which I fully support) and that is SHAMEFUL in the Chicago Public Schools! DO BETTER CPS.

"I'd say "everybody celebrate it until it becomes a thing," but I'm not sure how I as a white person should celebrate Juneteenth"

Honestly just keep making friends until you get invited to the good parties. And urge your city or town to host Juneteeth celebrations of some sort -- since I've moved to this VERY VERY WHITE suburb, the celebration is hosted by the library in association with the local NAACP. The town supports it and the town government shows up, but it is very much a "teaching party for white people," but like, having that at the library with the NAACP planning it and providing volunteer teachers is a totally okay way to go about it in a very white area!

It is not anything at all like celebrating Juneteenth in Peoria where every other church had a party and every park shelter was booked for family barbecues and neighborhoods were full of backyard barbecues and it was just SO MUCH FUN, and if you were new to town and new to Juneteenth and happened to have your kids at the park on Juneteenth, whatever family was celebrating there would invite you to come share and it was honestly just such a wonderfully open and engaging celebration (even though a lot of white people deliberately ignored it) and I adored it, and as I got to have more friends in town and got half a dozen invitations it was totally my favorite day because it was so celebratory and it felt really untainted -- shitty white people ignored it, and it didn't have the complicated feelings of the Fourth of July (for example) or Columbus Day.

But where I am now, for being a very white town, the local effort is pretty decent! They're bringing in professionals for the educational part (instead of insisting the small local black population take that on), making sure the town highlights and respects the importance of Juneteenth. The food is catered by local restaurants so it's not all that Juneteenth-y but that's clearly better than clumsy attempts at mimicing soul food, and they often ask immigrant-owned restaurants to cater, and it's interesting to talk to Russian and Greek and Korean immigrants who are learning about Juneteenth by catering the local celebration; I think it's nice, and the restaurant owners seem to get very committed to it! A few places that have in the past catered the celebration now have Juneteenth specials. ("Spanikopita! Half price for Juneteenth!" and the owner will come discourse with you about the importance of Juneteenth.)

"I visited the Lincoln Cottage in DC this spring which is where he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation and it was surprisingly moving just to be in the same room where that was written."

My husband was the director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency during the Civil War's sesquicentennial, and the lawyer for it a bit before that, and LET ME TELL YOU, being in the same room with the Emancipation Proclamation is very reliably tear-inducing. When he was the lawyer, he was working with the Smithsonian to arrange the loan of some of Illinois's artifacts to the Smithsonian for the sesquicentennial, and he asked me to proofread a contract, and 20 minutes later he was like, "Are you done?" and I was like, "Sorry, I got super-distracted by the fact that the contract is about Mary Lincoln's bloody gloves from when she tried to stanch Abe's bleeding from the gunshot wound." But OMG being in the room with the scraps of paper that formed the Emancipation Proclaimation and the 13th Amendment is ... shivers and chills and tears. It's really overwhelming!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:35 PM on June 19 [11 favorites]


So one thing happening today on Juneteenth is Congressional hearings on HR 40, a bill to commission a study on reparations for slavery. Ta-Nahesis Coates spoke, here is his full testimony in written form.
posted by Nelson at 7:43 PM on June 19 [5 favorites]




Why celebrating Juneteenth is more important now than ever: It’s time for America to truly grapple with its legacy of slavery.
Karlos Hill

I recently visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice as well as the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, both created by the Equal Justice Initiative. And what that memorial and that museum try to do is tie the history of slavery to our present. It tries to help us understand the ways in which we as a country have never really dealt with the trauma or the legacy of slavery, and everything connected to slavery. From the perspective of the memorial and museum, our whole racial past is tied up in and connected to slavery.

One of the things that Bryan Stevenson [founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative] has argued is that in order for us to move beyond slavery, its legacy, and the trauma it brought, we have to acknowledge the ways in which slavery generated massive amounts of wealth for white Americans, and how the narratives used to justify slavery are still connected with narratives that are used to oppress African Americans today. He argues that unless we acknowledge all of this, we are going to continue to face the consequences of this legacy.

Through that memorial, and with things like a national Juneteenth holiday, we can begin to really acknowledge and address all of the issues, past and present, tied up in this issue of slavery.

It wouldn’t be a Juneteenth holiday so much that would bring about this change; it would be the dialogue — creating the consensus around the holiday, the actions taken after this holiday has been approved at the national level — that would really be where change begins. A Juneteenth holiday is just the impetus and enabler of the change that we want to see. The process of creating this holiday, the change that would need to occur to get people’s minds and spirits in the right place, is really what we want.
posted by homunculus at 8:19 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


Andrew W. Kahrl, Black People’s Land Was Stolen: Any discussion of reparations must include how this happened, who did it, and the laws, policies and practices that allowed it.
But in addition to invoking the 40 acres black people never got, the reparations movement today should be talking about the approximately 11 million acres black people had but lost, in many cases through fraud, deception and outright theft, much of it taken in the past 50 years.

These property holdings could have provided a foundation for black wealth-building in post-Jim Crow America. Instead, they became a source of riches for others. Rather than helping to close the racial wealth gap, blacks’ landholdings became a key force in widening it. Black land-taking has been as instrumental as the denial of opportunities to acquire property in creating today’s racial wealth inequality and offers a more telling indicator of the barriers to upward mobility black people faced — and continue to face — in America.
posted by zachlipton at 1:27 PM on June 20 [3 favorites]


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