Also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, the holiday commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas, and more generally the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the former confederacy. Though President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, it took a while for the news to get to Texas.
More isolated geographically, Texas was not a battleground, and thus the people held there as slaves were not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation unless they escaped. Planters and other slaveholders had migrated into Texas from eastern states to escape the fighting, and many brought enslaved people with them, increasing by the thousands the enslaved population in the state at the end of the Civil War.
Our history, as well as the future of America, is told in the struggle for equality, justice, and civil rights:
Amid the wreckage of Reconstruction, the sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois wrote Black Reconstruction in America, a celebration of freedom demanded and claimed, and a lamentation of the collapse of an era in which the country could have truly made good on its promises to the enslaved. In it, he made a prediction. “This the American black man knows: his fight here is a fight to the finish,” Du Bois wrote. “Either he dies or wins. If he wins it will be by no subterfuge or evasion of amalgamation. He will enter modern civilization here in America as a black man on terms of perfect and unlimited equality with any white man, or he will enter not at all. Either extermination root and branch, or absolute equality. There can be no compromise. This is the last great battle of the West.”
Indeed there can be no compromise on absolute equality. The present and future of the country depends on the fulfillment of its essential promise. Juneteenth is an important reminder about who we are, and a testament to the brave and courageous precursors who lived the struggles for full citizenship and opportunity, in the name of liberty and justice for all.
Image: Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1905, VCU librairies, via wikimedia commons.