**Originally posted on my original blog on June, 19, 2020.**
In all the drama surrounding recent tragedies that inspired protests that became riots, the idea of a national holiday centered around 19 JUNE 1865 and the reading of the orders ending slavery in the seceding states in Galveston, Texas by Union General Gordon Granger. A great deal has been made of the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation was over two years old at that point and I keep hearing it suggested the delay between emancipation and freedom was a deliberate effort by White masters to keep their slaves.
The truth is that Texas was the most remote (and in many regards least important) of the seceding states and full pacification took longer than it did in other states closer to the Union’s military efforts. And it is important to remember that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a flawed document which actually freed no slaves including those in the slave states which had not seceded and where slavery continued even after the war.
The war ended a few days AFTER Juneteenth on 22 JUNE 1865, and on that day the Emancipation Proclamation was put into full effect freeing all of the slaves in the seceding states. It is often overlooked that this had no bearing on the status of the thousands of slaves still legally held in Kentucky, Delaware, New Jersey, Kansas, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri and even Washington DC -places where the Federal Government never lost control and slavery could have been ended by simple executive order, but left out of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth had no effect on the chains worn by those slaves.
Many of them remained slaves until 6 DECEMBER 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified.
Much of this is why I oppose making “Juneteenth” the national holiday celebrating emancipation…and I definitely think the United States needs such a holiday.
I think America needs such a holiday.
There is (and always has been) a lot of hostility towards the idea of recognizing the impact of slavery on Black Culture and the impact those events occurring 150 years ago have on the lives of Americans living today among White Americans who proclaim they never owned slaves and that the Black Americans talking about reparations were never slaves.
But when discussing Lexington and Concord, most White Americans will proudly say “we resisted the British.”
The “we” who resisted the British also are the “we” who owned slaves…and they are the “we” who were slaves. All of us. One people.
The Jews were liberated from bondage in Egypt about 3500 years ago and to this day the central event in their cultural life is the celebration of Pesach, Passover. And when asked to explain why the day is special as part of the ritual of the celebration, the event is referred to as if it were happening now. The descendants of those fugitives say, “Today I am a free man when I was a slave in Egypt.”
That Black Americans want to say “Today I am a free man when I was a slave in Mississippi” does not strike me as odd.
The biggest difference between the narrative of the Jews and the Black Americans is that the Jews tell a story of one of their own rising up and leading them out of bondage. The story of Black Emancipation relies on a lot of White Boys in blue uniforms wresting that freedom from a lot of White Boys in grey uniforms.
For the nation to recognize a holiday that unites us rather than divides us, we have to find some way to acknowledge that Emancipation was an event that made the Republic stronger and made America a better, stronger, more vital Nation than it was while the abomination of race slavery existed.
As a White man whose ancestors were in Mississippi and a man who regards Mississippi as my home and the cradle of my patriotism, I have to understand and be enthusiastic about the advancement made when slavery ended. This is difficult to say if one has an understanding of reconstruction and the terrible consequences of treating the South as a defeated foreign country between 1865 and 2014.
But those terrible consequences were visited upon Southerners of all races. The epidemic poverty throughout the South strikes every race and should serve as a clue that many of our racial divisions are rooted less in slavery, less in the War, and most firmly in the economics of selfish men.
That is, perhaps, an essay for a different day.
I don’t know what day can be chosen to celebrate Emancipation, but it has to be a day that holds real meaning for all of us and real significance in the history of slavery in America.
A national celebration of Emancipation can’t be geared toward the hardship or good fortune of a single race. The purpose of a national holiday is to unite the people and Emancipation Day can only do that if we can find a way to perceive the good fortune of ending slavery as a benefit to the nation. If there is a significant faction of the nation that holds that “the other side” resents the end of slavery or benefits from it without deserving the blessings of the WHOLE of American history, then we can expect the day to be met with greater and greater violence and division each year…until one side capitulates and dominates the other.
Each side already suspects that is the other’s goal anyway.
Emancipation Day then is a test, a measuring stick. When Americans of all races can look at each other and see Americans…even hyphenated Black Americans, White Americans, Chinese Americans…all of whom need a day where they can sit back and admit that we were all once strangers in that strange land and we were all saved when we came to our senses and ended the vile practice of race slavery.
We, the people.