The History and Significance of Juneteenth

The History and Significance of Juneteenth

June 20, 2022

I live in Texas where June 19, also known as Juneteenth, has been a state holiday since 1979[i]. On signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17 last year, President Biden stated: “Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, and a promise of a brighter morning to come”.[ii]

 

Since childhood, I’ve known Juneteenth as a milestone on the path toward a civil U.S. society where all men and women have equal legal rights, equal access to justice, and equal claims on the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that were declared in 1776 for men on this soil by the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America and adopted by the Second Continental Congress meeting in PhiladelphiaPennsylvania, on July 4, 1776[iii] (text at Declaration of Independence: A Transcription | National Archives).

 

Juneteenth’s History

“Juneteenth” may be thought to mark the end of slavery in the United States. But that’s not actually true. Maybe it’s fair to say that “Juneteenth commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States”.[iv] But, not the end of slavery in the U.S.  Not the end of systemic racism and states’ rights debates that predate the American Revolution.[v] And, of course, not the end of human trafficking.

Before Europeans introduced African slavery into North America,[vi] at least some Native-American tribes practiced some form of slavery.[vii] But the earliest form of global human trafficking began with the African slave trade. Since the American and European continents were involved as buyers, and various African groups were both items of trade and middlemen, it is the first known international flow of human trafficking.[viii]

In 1641, Massachusetts became the first British colony to legalize slavery.[ix] By the time the Colonies declared their independence in the summer of 1776, slavery had become a contentious political issue. In November of 1775 the royal governor of Virginia, the Earl of Dunmore, issued a proclamation in which he offered freedom to enslaved people who would support and fight for the British.[x]

Human slavery remained a politically divisive issue in the 19th century United States,[xi] contributing to the 1860 election of the nation’s first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, on an anti-slavery expansion platform. “A number of issues ignited the Civil War: states’ rights, the role of the federal government, the preservation of the Union, the economy; all were inextricably bound to the institution of slavery.”[xii] The galvanizing issue was whether to allow expansion of slavery into territories acquired as a result of the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican–American War.[xiii]

 

On December 20, following Lincoln’s election, South Carolina’s seceded from the Union. The "cotton states" of MississippiFloridaAlabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas followed in January and February 1861. On February 4, 1861, delegates from six states — South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana — met to establish a unified government that they named the Confederate States of America. A few days later, Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis was elected its president.

 

By the time Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president of the United States on March 4, 1861, Texas also had joined the Confederacy. And on April 12, Confederate forces attacked the U.S. military garrison at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. That battle started the U.S. Civil War that didn’t end until November 1865.

 

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared an end to slavery effective January 1, 1863 – but only in Confederate States, not in slave-owning border states Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware that remained in the Union, and not in the Indian Territories that sided with the Confederacy.[xiv]

 

The four-year War Between the States”[xv] did not end until after Confederate General Lee surrendered to Union General Grant on April 9, 1865, at the Battle of Appomattox Court House. And the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t deliver freedom to enslaved people in Texas until later that year. Texas being the Confederate state most distant from Washington D.C., federal troops finally arrived on June 19, 1865 – 2½ years after the Proclamation’s effective date – to read the proclamation publicly in Galveston and set people free in Texas by executive decree.

 

Slavery did not end for all Americans outside the Confederacy until the December 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment, which enshrined the end of slavery into the Constitution.[xvi] But even the 13th Amendment didn’t end slavery in the continental United Sates. That didn’t happen until the 1866 Treaty with the Choctaw and Chickasaw, when enslaved people held in the Indian Territories that sided with the Confederacy were released. (1866) U.S. Treaty with the Choctaw & Chickasaw Nations • (blackpast.org).

 Juneteenth’s Current Significance

Ending slavery in America didn’t end institutional racism or race-based violence.[xvii]  “Black people in the US continue to feel the impacts of enslavement today in the form of structural racism, violence, discrimination and disparities in health, housing, education, economics, policing and law enforcement. Mass protests in response to pervasive racial inequality, and the killing of Black people, like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, reflect America's failure to provide redress for this long history of abuse. Psychological and mental harms stemming from enslavement and anti-Black racism persist and require comprehensive remedy.

 

Even amidst battles against truth about the nation's founding, there is a growing understanding that the legacy of slavery and racial discrimination impacts everyone in the country. While Juneteenth has become a national holiday, and at least one retailor sought to market Juneteenth ice cream, the bill “HR 40” to establish a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans has languished in the U.S. Congress since it was first introduced by Rep. John Conyers in 1989[xviii].  Rep. Conyers died in October 2019, having sponsored the Act each Legislative session from 1989 to 2017.

The bill’s number “40” refers to “the unfulfilled promise” the United States “made to freed slaves: that after the Civil War, they would get forty acres and a mule”. Its current iteration of “HR 40” is sponsored by Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.[xix]  Sheila Jackson Lee.[1] It provides for a commission tasked with examining slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present, and recommending appropriate remedies. Among other things, the proposed commission would be tasked to identify (1) the role of the federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and (3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African-Americans and society.  “[To] build a better, more just future, we need to address and repair the continuing legacy of slavery.”[xx]

It’s time to acknowledge the difficulties that our nation -  and not just the African American community – continues to face. Companies, government entities, and community organizations are getting involved and you can too. If you are interested in learning more about the Juneteenth holiday, contact your local community center to find out more and how to celebrate and how to make a meaningful difference. [xxi]

Important Disclosures

Content in this material is for educational and general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however LPL Financial makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy.


[i]Texas passes a bill becoming the first state in the nation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday - HISTORY.

 

[ii]Remarks by President Biden at Signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act | The White House.

 

[iii]United States Declaration of Independence - Wikipedia.

 

[iv] What Is Juneteenth?, History.com, https://www.history.com/news/what-is-juneteenth

 

[v]Systemic Racism and America Today (John R. Allen, President Brookings Institute President, June 1, 2020, brookings.edu) (“Unaddressed systemic racism is, in my mind, the most important issue in the United States today. And it has been so since before the founding of our nation.”)

 

[vi]Atlantic slave trade - Wikipedia; Slavery in the United States | American Battlefield Trust (battlefields.org).

 

[vii]Slavery among Native Americans in the United States - Wikipedia

 

[viii]The History of Human Trafficking | Hankering for History

 

[ix]Slavery in History « Free the Slaves.

 

[x]American Revolution | Slavery and Remembrance.

 

[xi] See generally, Causes Of The Civil War | History Detectives | PBS ; Civil War - Causes, Dates & Battles - HISTORY; American Civil War | Causes & Effects | Britannica.

 

[xii]Slavery: Cause and Catalyst of the Civil War, (U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service, SLAVERY-BROCHURE.pdf (nps.gov). Consensus among historians may be that the Civil War was not fought about states' rights, Origins of the American Civil War - Wikipedia, but no one disputes that the divisive issues predating the US Civil War, and converging to trigger it, remain with us unresolved today.

 

[xiii]https://g.co/kgs/auKxV9.

 

[xiv]10 Facts: The Emancipation Proclamation | American Battlefield Trust (battlefields.org).

 

[xv]Names of the American Civil War - Wikipedia

 

[xvi]13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865) | National Archives

 

[xvii]1921 Tulsa Race Massacre - Tulsa Historical Society & Museum (tulsahistory.org) (On May 31 and June 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked Black residents, destroying homes and businesses of the Greenwood District, an affluent African American community known as “Black Wall Street”); A reading list on issues of race – Harvard Gazette (George Floyd’s killing prompted an outpouring of interest on race and race relations across the U.S.; Harvard faculty members discuss the books they recommend for those who want to learn more about the issues and to expand their understanding of systemic racism, white privilege, and the long legacies of slavery and white supremacy in American history).

[xviii]Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act – Wikipedia.

 

[xix]Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act - Wikipedia.

 

[xx]Take Action: Tell President Biden to Create Reparations Commission | Human Rights Watch (hrw.org).

 

[xxi] So You Want to Learn About Juneteenth?, NY Times https://www.nytimes.com/article/juneteenth-day-celebration.html; What Is Juneteenth?, History.com, https://www.history.com/news/what-is-juneteenth.