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June 19, 2020

The Meaning of Juneteenth

Written by Julye M. Williams

A lover of people, justice, and equity.

On this day in 1865, after the Civil War ended, enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas were told they were free from bondage – two years after the Emancipation Proclamation declared them so

In celebration of the news, the day became known as “Juneteenth,” a holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S. 

Unfortunately, the end of slavery was not so clear cut. As we celebrate the announcement of freedom to those enslaved in Texas, it is important to have the full context of this historical moment, and how the end of slavery – an institution that lasted 246 years – became a reality.  First, a quick look at history.

1861: The Origins of the Civil War

The American Civil war began in 1861 and ended in 1865. The fight was between the northern states, who were loyal to the Union (the United States), and the southern states who left the Union to form the Confederate States of America. The war began shortly after Abraham Lincoln, whose political party supported banning slavery in the US, became president. The southern states were outraged and before he was even inaugurated, they left the Union and formed the Confederacy. They wanted to maintain the institution of slavery at all costs. 

1862: The Emancipation Proclamation

A year into the war, in 1862 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which was also an Executive Order. It changed the legal status under federal law of more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans in the Confederate states from slave to free. It is important to note that this Proclamation did not change the status of enslaved people in Union states. He only granted freedom to enslaved people in Confederate states, where there was combat.  While the Proclamation freed the majority of those who were enslaved, it still left a half-million people in bondage.

1865: The Civil War Ends

On April 9, 1865, the Civil War ended when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. After nearly four years of war,  and as many as 750,000 people deaths, the war was over. The infrastructure of the south was destroyed. Slavery was abolished and 4 million enslaved black people were freed. 

1865: Juneteenth

Nearly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, on June 19, 1865, Union army general Gordon Granger announced the federal orders proclaiming that all enslaved people in Texas were free. Texas was one of the most remote slave-holding states, and the last to receive the news.

1865: The 13th Amendment

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

– Section 1 of the 13th Amendment

It is this amendment to the US constitution that legally ended slavery in the United States. It was passed by a two-thirds vote on January 1, 1865, and ratified, or made law, by the states on December 6, 1865, thus ending legal slavery in the United States. 

Juneteenth is a day of celebrating news of freedom. It was a monumental turning point in the lives of enslaved African Americans in Texas. News of their freedom came two and a half years after it was officially granted. After the civil war, America would enter the Reconstruction era, where African Americans would gain seats in the US Congress, open universities for higher learning, and much more. The fog of slavery, however, would continue.

It is on this day that we announce the launch of Project 2043.

America again is changing and entering a monumental turning point. Our population will shift from being majority White to majority people of color in 23 short years. How we educate ourselves and how we take action today will inform the future society we live in.

We invite you to join us on a journey to learn more about this nation, the amazing people from the past and present who are making it what it is, and about the inequities we must correct to ensure our country works for all.  An inclusive, equitable, and healthy multi-racial democracy is possible. It’s going to take all of us to make it happen. 

We look forward to learning, growing, and taking action with you.

In Solidarity,

Julye

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