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Mythbusters: Juneteenth Edition

Updated: Jun 19, 2022

Wikipedia defines Juneteenth as a holiday celebrating the emancipation of African-Americans who had been enslaved in the United States. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it is now celebrated annually on June 19 throughout the United States, with increasing official recognition, and became a federal holiday in 2021. Critical Race Theory (CRT), and holding a critical (questioning) lens would tell you this needs a further look.

In truth (which CRT seeks to illuminate), Abraham Lincoln did not free the enslaved Africans, and Juneteenth is not about celebrating the legal emancipation of enslaved Africans. Enslaved Africans never gave up on their dreams of freedom and always resisted through escaping, rebelling, collective action, completing suicide, and many other means. Abraham Lincoln was born in poverty, a member of the landless-whites, and held middle-class values and animosities for enslaved Africans with him throughout his lifetime.

There were many forces in action when he became president, there was pressure from the abolitionists, from the landless-whites, and of course, the South which attempted succession as soon as he was elected. In those early days, he said this of slavery, “ I have no purpose directly, or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” It was only later as the war raged on that he took action against slavery, albeit flip-flopping often.

First backing up, John C. Fremont in Missouri when he declared martial law and that enslaved Africans of owners resisting the United States were to be freed. Then soon thereafter, as Congress passed the Confiscation Act, that enabled the freeing of slaves of those fighting the Union, he did little to enforce it. The Emancipation Proclamation was a military move, not a moral one. In its original iteration in September 1862, it gave the South four months to stop rebelling, threatened to emancipate the enslaved Africans if they did not while promising to leave slavery untouched in states that came over to the North.

So, when the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, was issued it declared all enslaved Africans free in those areas still fighting the Union, yet said nothing about those behind very racist Union lines. Of this, abolitionist newspaper The Liberator wrote, “The principle is not that a human being cannot justly own another; but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States.” This moved abolitionists and other anti-slavery forces mobilize and pressure Congress to adopt the 13th amendment abolishing slavery.

So to be clear, Abraham Lincoln was not the savior of the Blacks. He did not free the enslaved Africans with the Emancipation Proclamation and was racist in his beliefs. He called enslaved Africans “poor creatures” and said, “I will say, then, that I am not, not ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races…”. While he thought slavery wrong, he did not believe in the equality of the races and planned to send the freed Africans back to Africa.

On to the truth of Juneteenth…

Juneteenth was the day (actually range of days) that the enslaved Africans in Galveston Bay, Tx got word that they had been freed. Two years after the 13th Amendment had been passed. Texas, being a slave state fighting against the Union held onto slavery until Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay on June 19, 1865, declaring the enslaved Africans free. From then forward, June 19th came to be known as Juneteeth in Texas as a celebration of the end of slavery. It later was adopted in other regions and now is a Federal holiday.

To learn more visit the links below:

Juneteenth Resources from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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