Today is Juneteenth, the day that African-American slaves in Texas were informed that they were supposed to have already been emancipated two and a half years earlier.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation declared (in summary) "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." Although this proclamation was issued, slavery did not end immediately. Due to being more geographically isolated, a lot of slaveholders migrated to Texas to escape the fighting of the Civil War.
It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that General Gordon Granger and his troops marched into Galveston, Texas to read General Order No. 3, which stated:
“The people of Texas 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 becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
The formerly enslaved people in Galveston rejoiced after the announcement. One year later, freedmen in Texas organized the first of what became annual commemorations of “Jubilee Day”. Eventually Jubilee Day would become known as Juneteenth.
Although slavery was ended, that did not end the implementation of racist policies that infringed on African-American people’s rights. A few are:
- Gun control laws (formerly known as “slave” or “black” codes were created to keep African-Americans from owning guns.
- The practice of “Redlining” was used to refuse credit-worthy African-Americans mortgage loans, using the excuse that they lived in “high risk” areas.
- The “War on Drugs” has disproportionately affected the African-American community by over policing those communities for the selling and possession of marijuana. In turn, the cash bail system keeps people of color incarcerated for these non-violent crimes, as most of those who are arrested that community a more likely to be poor and unable to raise the funds for bail.
This Juneteenth, let’s celebrate the freedom that was granted to the enslaved, while also recognizing that the government’s policies have made life more difficult for people of color. These policies continue today, and we need to keep pushing to change them drastically.