Most Americans barely realize Juneteenth is now a federal holiday and too many both black and white don’t fully understand the history or appreciate the importance of the end of slavery in the United States. Black Americans rightly and joyously celebrate the end of slavery, but too many white Americans consider it just a celebration for black Americans. It is not. Freedom should be celebrated in all its manifestations by all Americans. Americans in general are unaware of the decades long struggle to end slavery by both blacks and whites, nor do we remember there were both blacks and whites trying to perpetuate slavery. It’s not a racial issue; it’s a human issue.
Most Americans believe the Emancipation Proclamation signed 1 January 1863 by the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, freed the slaves, but that was only one step in a long process to end slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to states or areas controlled by the Confederacy; slaves in Union states or Union controlled slave states were not included. As Union forces conquered Confederate areas, slaves in those areas were liberated, so even for most slaves in the south they were only emancipated on paper until the war reached them.
Texas being largely removed from any large-scale Civil War battles was essentially unaffected until the war was over. It was not until some two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox that Union General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas and invoked General Order Number 3 on June 19th, 1865, informing the people of Texas that all slaves in Texas were now free. It still took months for the word to spread as some slave owners withheld the information until after the harvest.
The newly freed Texas slaves, now freedmen, immediately embraced the holiday and the next year in 1866 organized the first celebration on June 19th as “Jubilee Day.” It eventually became known as “Juneteenth” and Texas blacks have been celebrating ever since. The concept was somewhat known outside Texas, but for more than a century it remained a mostly Texas celebration. Texas finally made Juneteenth an official holiday in 1979 and a few states followed suit over the next four decades, but it was not until 156 years later in 2021 that Juneteenth became a federal holiday.
Now a federal holiday, Juneteenth is being celebrated nationwide as communities across the country are catching up to Texas with their own celebrations. Juneteenth is a compelling story and worthy holiday, but it’s not the whole story. Slavery was not officially ended until the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery in the United States was ratified 6 December 1865 and proclaimed as law 18 December 1865.
Abolishing slavery did not happen overnight or just during the Civil War. It was an almost century long struggle. Many of our Founding Fathers wanted to abolish slavery, but too many wanted to preserve it. So, to establish a union, they made a sad compromise that has been too often misrepresented. In our Constitution, slaves were counted as three fifths of a person which too many have misconstrued as the founders considering slaves as less than a full human, but that is false – it was all about congressional representation.
Slave states cynically wanted to count slaves as a whole person to increase their representation and power in the Congress despite slaves having no voice. States opposed to slavery to saw that as a sinister scheme to usurp the voices of slaves and therefore did not want them counted at all. So, the three fifths compromise was to allow some representation but constrain the influence of slave states.
For the next few decades, the United States expanded only by adding a free state and a slave state to preserve the precarious balance. Opposition to slavery grew, but the economic dependency on slavery also persisted. Slavery became evermore contentious, and an ultimate confrontation became inevitable. The Compromise of 1850 averted open war for a time, but it tragically prolonged slavery. It inhumanely denied enslaved people a trial by jury, but it did outlaw the slave trade and that was the seed that would end slavery by making slaves too expensive because new slaves could no longer be brought from Africa.
With the election of abolitionist President Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the die was cast, and the wheels of war were set in motion. The United States was torn asunder as we fought our bloodiest war against ourselves to finally rid the nation of the unspeakable stain of slavery. Therein lies the vital importance of Juneteenth and the victorious end of slavery in the United States. Such a sin must be purged, but never forgotten so as never to be repeated.
We memorialize horrific tragedies like the Holocaust to remind us that heinous evil can be perpetrated in otherwise civilized societies. So too should we remember slavery and every American should commemorate its demise with due contrition and conviction that we never let it happen again. If not for the grace of God, go I.
The lesson is that an all-powerful government can and has misused its power to oppress its citizens, so eternal vigilance is mandatory to preserve our rights. Our Constitution was intended to enshrine our God given rights for all Americans, so Juneteenth and the end of slavery is the consummation of our Constitution. It’s a celebration for all Americans as we rejoice that all Americans finally gained the freedom God intended for every human. We are neighbors, we are one family, we are one nation under God, we are Americans! Celebrate it!
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatian 5:13-14).
Pete Riehm is the host of Common Sense Radio heard 8 pm every Thursday on FMTalk106.5 or streaming at fmtalk1065.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on MEWE @PeteRiehm or read all his columns at http://www.renewamerica.com/.© Pete Riehm
The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.