Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Belated Juneteenth

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All or none of them could be true. For whatever the reason, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

From Juneteenth

I apologize for the lateness of this post (I worked a ten hour shift last night, and came home and collapsed).

Admittedly I heard no one talking about Juneteenth here (in Wisconsin), but I am not surprised. I am white, living in a predominately white town, and commute to a job where I work with predominately white employees. I can't say for sure if the local news mentioned it, since I only watch it when there's nothing else on, and I need noise in the mornings.

This weekend I will be celebrating Juneteenth by reading, and reflecting on my whiteness, and I challenge other white people to do the same.

Here are more awesome links commemorating Juneteenth:

Monica: Happy Juneteenth, Peeps!
Carmen D.: Juneteenth 2009

Happy Juneteenth everyone! No one said we can't celebrate all weekend!