As a good ol’ Texas gal, I can barely remember the first time I heard that Juneteenth was a celebration of the end of slavery in Texas, not the entire south. That’s why I was shocked when I moved away from my childhood home and began hearing the misinformation that’s been spread outside my previous home state about this important observance, especially in my adopted home state of Arizona.
For instance, people here in Arizona keep telling me June 19 marks the day when President Lincoln freed the slaves. They’re surprised when I tell them that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. But the slaves in Texas didn’t know they’d been legally freed from bondage for another two and a half years.
The city of New Orleans had been captured by union troops in late spring 1862. The occupation of that city for the remainder of the war effectively cut off supplies and communication to people living in rebel territory west of the Mississippi River until after the war.
It wasn’t until a northern ship landed in the port of Galveston on June 19, 1865, that slaves living in Texas finally learned they were free. So, while New Year’s Day was the first day of legal freedom for U.S. slaves, June 19 marks the end of that beginning–and the onset of an entirely new set of problems for people of color in the south.
Since then, the observance of Juneteenth has gone in and out of favor over the years. Finally, the 1980 declaration of Juneteenth as a legal holiday in the state of Texas cemented the modern resurgence of the observance. Still, in every other state, the festivities remain unofficial. Representative Al Edwards, the Texas legislator who led the holiday movement, is still working to make the date a national holiday. He has a strong ally in that campaign though, the first African-American president of the United States, Barack Obama.
Now, whenever friends and neighbors in my adopted home state of Arizona mention Juneteenth as the date President Lincoln freed the slaves, I’m delighted to explain the role Texas played in that history. Maybe one day everyone in the country will know these details.
And maybe one day soon, everyone in the country will celebrate June 19 as America’s second independence day, for men, anyway. Freedom for women didn’t come for more than half a century after that–but then, that’s another story altogether.
DEBBIE JORDAN is also the National Peace Examiner and the author of The World I Imagine: A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace and Lion’s Pride. Her website is: imaginetheworldatpeace.com. You can find her Peace Blog at: imaginetheworldatpeace.blogspot.com/.
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