Happy Juneteenth (Freedom Day)!

Story of America: Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church, Charleston
800 Years Ago Today: Magna Carta
Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas, from whose front balcony General Order #3 was read on 19 Jun 1865

Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas, from whose front balcony General Order #3 was read on 19 Jun 1865

Today is the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the USA. The occasion is marked in many places by the holiday known as Juneteenth, or Freedom Day. The Emancipation Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln was issued 22 Sep 1862 with an effective date of 1 Jan 1863. It declared all slaves to be freed in the Confederate States of America in rebellion and not in Union hands. Ironically, this excluded from emancipation many slaves in parts of Tennessee, Virginia and Louisiana occupied by the Union armies, as well as slaves in Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland and Missouri, whose states were not in rebellion.

Juneteenth, a combination of “June” and “nineteenth”, was first celebrated on 19 Jun 1865 (following the end of the Civil War and almost 3 years after the Proclamation), when the slaves of Galveston, Texas formally learned they were free. On that day, General Order #3 was read at Galveston from the front balcony of Ashton Villa. There had been other emancipation days throughout the United States since Lincoln’s proclamation. but Juneteenth was the culminating moment when all American slaves were finally given their freedom. For the first time in American history, black people were legally considered equal to white. They were legally afforded all the rights that their former slave owners enjoyed – the right to marry, the right to own property, the right to assemble and worship. And yet today’s celebration 150 years later holds a bittersweet quality, especially following by only a couple of days, the assassination of nine African Americans in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. We are reminded by this and by so many other daily observations, that ongoing racism still plagues America.

 

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