Educational institutions throughout the country teach the Civil War. Dates, specific individuals, locations, and that little issue known as slavery are the pillars of Civil War teachings. We all have learned about the Civil War. We all claim to know its reasons. We may have even entertained ourselves watching movies about it. After we “learn” about the War, we move on to other things in life.
Did you stop and take a moment to reflect on the War?
I will ask you again. Did you genuinely reflect on the War?
I know you are busy right now. We are dealing with an unseen virus that insists on staying with us. We are worried about our livelihood. We are handling physical distancing while looking like pseudo-super-heroes. Moreover, the world seems to be exploding because some citizens are tired of civil servants, who earn their salary from taxes and kill African-Americans. Therefore, I will not bring to your attention something profound. How about one small thing for you to consider?
“‘When Peace Come’: Teaching the Significance of Juneteenth” by Shennette Garrett-Scott, et al. (2013) describes the scene,
In April 1865, at Appomattox Courthouse, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered, ending the Civil War. Somehow, Texas did not get the memo. The slaveholders in that state refused to acknowledge that the War ended and give up their slaves. History shows that this is not surprising because the Civil War barely touched Texas. The Confederacy shielded it from much of the fighting and isolated it making it an attractive place for non-Texan slaveowners to hide their slaves, known as “refugeeing,” from the Union army.
Union Brigadier General Gordon Granger and 1,800 federal troops arrived off the coast of Galveston in mid-June 1865. Though many enslaved people had already learned that they were freed, on June 19, Granger made the news of freedom official. He stepped onto the balcony of Ashton Villa, the former headquarters of the Texas Confederate Army, and read General Orders No. 3. The order informed the slaves that the War was over and that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation two and one-half years earlier. The reactions of the newly emancipated were mixed: some stood in quiet shock and disbelief, others shouted prayers to God, but most sang and danced right there in the streets. June 19 became Afro-Texans’ new “Emancipation Day” or “Jubilee Day.” (p. 19-20)
During Reconstruction, former slaves celebrated in freedom colonies in Texas. By the beginning of the twentieth century, my people began using “Juneteenth” to describe Jubilee Day. Celebrations were no longer in Texas. Parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana held celebrations that rivaled Independence Day (Garrett-Scott, et al., 2013). The celebrations were not what you might think. They were civic celebrations taking on broader implications of citizenship. During this era, African-Americans discussed voting rights, and encouraged greater political participation. In their minds, freedom included the right to vote, which was slowly being taken away by the last decade of the nineteenth century.
Juneteenth celebrations also allowed my people to assert their economic rights by raising money within their communities and possess land. Think about it. The ancestors pulled their resources and bought property to “celebrate.” They understood that a loud voice in this country required economics and political will.
During the years leading to World War I, segregation laws, racial violence, lynching, and nativism weakened Juneteenth celebrations. Shortly before World War II, however, a renaissance occurred in Texas. In 1936, African-American civic leaders in Texas and around the country secured a federal grant of $100,000 (Garrett-Scott, et al., 2013). They built a Hall of Negro Life, attracting the largest Juneteenth celebration ever held at that time, reviving Juneteenth in Texas and beyond. Although European-Americans found a way to destroy the Hall, it did not dampen the spirit of its future public celebrations.
Many African-Americans in the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements connected Juneteenth to the themes of freedom and equal rights. In 1968, Dr. King and other organizers of the Poor People’s March held their Solidarity Day Rally on Juneteenth (Garrett-Scott, et al., 2013). After the rally, many who came from around the country started or revived their own Juneteenth celebrations. The Black Power Movement focused on Black pride and cultural heritage. Many states and corporations now have Juneteenth celebrations.
Juneteenth is not a day to merely celebrate by having cookouts and parades. On the contrary, it is a day of reflection. It is a day to think about how people of power prevent progress in the form of racial equality, but also how they can aid racial equality. It is a day to consider ways of obtaining collective economic power to exert political influence. It calls to our attention the meaning of sacrifice and the legacy of struggle, strength, and perseverance that our ancestors left for us. Find meaning in this day, Chapman community.
Garrett-Scott, S., Richardson, R., & Dillard-Allen, V. (2013). “When Peace Come”: Teaching the Significance of Juneteenth. Black History Bulletin,76(2), 19-25. Retrieved June 17, 2020, from jstor.org/stable/24759690
General Orders No. 3. (n.d.) https://deadconfederates.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/juneteenth.png