Anybody who knows anything about American history knows that 157 years ago on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, 250,000 formerly enslaved Blacks in that state finally received official confirmation of their freedom. (By the way, that was nearly 2½ years after President Abe Lincoln’s 1862 Emancipation Proclamation. More about that later in this article.)
But most people don’t know the important details about this historic holiday. Therefore, as a public service to Black folks primarily and to everybody else secondarily, I am now listing 10 things you (probably) didn’t know about Juneteenth.
A beautiful word
The word “Juneteenth” is what’s known as a portmanteau, which is a linguistic blend of words that fuses sounds and meanings — i.e., the words “June” and “nineteenth” were combined by our formerly enslaved ancestors.
Some powerful words
In addition to calling it Juneteenth, our formerly enslaved ancestors also called it Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Black Independence Day.
Better late than never (not really)
It took nearly 2½ years after President Abe Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862, announced that his Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, for our ancestors in Texas on June 19, 1985, to find out about their freedom. And here’s why. “Honest Abe’s” Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. It didn’t end slavery or free any of the approximately 4 million enslaved Blacks in this country. It pertained only to the Confederate states that were in rebellion and excluded enslaved populations in northern states as well as specifically in Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee, “west/southeast” Virginia and lower Louisiana.
I should note that even the Thirteenth Amendment, which was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865, didn’t really end slavery either. It didn’t say and still doesn’t say “slavery and involuntary servitude are hereby abolished” with a period at the end. Instead, it says “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. …” Whoa! That means the Thirteenth Amendment actually legalized slavery and involuntary servitude as long as racist white men subsequently create laws to use against Black folks, enforce those laws unjustly against Black folks, and lock up Black folks unjustly using those unjustly enforced laws.
Let’s get back to why it took so damn long for Black folks in Texas to find out about their freedom. It’s because, following the capture of New Orleans by the Union Army in 1862, many worried “slaveholders” in Mississippi, Louisiana and other states to the east packed up 150,000 of their Black human cargo and sought racist sanctuary in relatively faraway and lawless Texas in the southwest, where 100,000 enslaved Blacks already resided and where it was believed that those lawless “slaveholders” could escape the Union Army’s reach.
General Order No. 3’s perfection
Juneteenth was born on that aforementioned June 19, 1865, date when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with 1,800 troops. From the Ashton Villa balcony, he announced General Order No. 3, which declared that “The people of Texas are informed that … all ‘slaves’ are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights … between former masters and ‘slaves’ ….”
General Order No. 3’s imperfection
As documented in a June 12, 2020, essay by the scholarly American Battlefield Trust, “Part of General Order No. 3 encouraged the newly freed people to remain with their past ‘owners.’”
Yep. That’s true. The North, after winning the Civil War, didn’t really want to be responsible for our formerly enslaved ancestors’ financial condition. And this was despite the fact that 198,000 of our formerly enslaved ancestors (179,000 in the Army and 19,000 in the Navy) had courageously turned the tide in the war at a time when the North was getting its butt whupped by the South. It is also despite the fact that 40,000 of them had given their lives to make the North victorious. Despite all that, General Order No. 3 included the following language: “The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
‘I ain’t studdin’ you.’ But I am scattering.
My grandmother would often use the phrase “I ain’t studdin’ you” when she meant that she was not studying — meaning thinking about — a person because of that person’s foolishness. It was a common term that many elders from the South and the North would use to mean exactly what she used it to mean.
Well, when our ancestors in Texas heard the part of General Order No. 3 that requested that they “remain” at the same location where they had been enslaved and that they trust their former so-called masters to pay fair wages, many of our ancestors in unison obviously whispered to themselves, “I ain’t studdin’ you.”
And tens of thousands of them then embarked upon what historians describe as “The Scatter.”
As reported in a 2001 article in the Texas Monthly magazine:
“‘We all walked down the road singing and shouting …,’ recalled one Texas freedwoman, Molly Harrell, in ‘The Slave Narratives of Texas,’ a book based on a 1930s-era federal oral-history project. Said another, Lou Smith: ‘I ran off and hid in the plum orchard and said over ‘n’ over, I’se free. I’se free; I ain’t never going back to Miss Jo.’ Many freed ‘slaves’ immediately left home, in what became known as ‘The Scatter,’ to find long-lost family members or to settle in the friendlier North.”
Money talks, BS walks
Although Juneteenth finally became a federal holiday just last year on June 17, most states continue to refuse to make it an official — i.e., paid — holiday. In fact, only nine states (Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington) have made it official.
As an aside, I must warn you not to be fooled by the many states that merely “recognize” or “observe” Juneteenth. Recognition or observation of the June 19 Black Independence Day without respecting it by making it official — just as the July 4 (White) Independence Day is respected by having been made official — is racist disrespect.
And although it’s bad that many states merely “recognize” or “observe” Juneteenth, it’s worse in Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota, which don’t even acknowledge Juneteenth at all. WTF?!
By the way, I must give President Joe Biden a big shout-out for signing the Juneteenth official federal holiday bill into law last year on June 17. And I give an even bigger shout-out to then-90-year-old/now 95-year-old Texas educator and activist Opal Lee who in 2016 began walking state-to-state to bring attention to the need for an official Juneteenth federal holiday.
White people being white people
A Gallup Poll on June 15, 2021, revealed that 73% of white people do not want Juneteenth to be an official federal holiday. I could say what I really think about that. However, I’m not gonna jeopardize The Philadelphia Tribune’s pristine professional reputation. But catch me on the street and I’ll tell you off-the-record what I really think about that.
I pledge allegiance to ‘our’ flag
The Juneteenth flag was designed in 1997 by Ben Haith, an activist in Boston and the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration. In 2000, he, along with L.J. Graf, Verlene Hines, Azim and Eliot Design updated it.
This red and blue flag with a white bursting star in the center symbolizes a new horizon of opportunity for Black folks. The red, white and blue colors are included to represent the fact that all enslaved Blacks and all free Blacks were and are American.
The red color in particular represents the blood shed by our enslaved ancestors.
In 2007, the date “June 19, 1865” was added to the flag to display the actual date of Black emancipation (as distinguished from the fake Sept. 22, 1862, Emancipation Proclamation announcement date and the fake Jan. 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation effective date).
Drink up like our ancestors
While referencing a Juneteenth-focused cookbook by Nicole Taylor, entitled “Watermelon and Red Birds,” which was published just last month, kcrw.com/news reported a few days ago on June 15 that “Enslaved West Africans … [who were transported] to the United States … brought with them a love of red drinks made from steeping kola nuts and hibiscus pods. Over time, all manner of fruits and vegetables were used to create red drinks — from cherries and berries to Kool-Aid in modern times.”
And as Taylor herself said, “The drink’s color and aura is paramount. It’s visually bold, calling attention to itself as if to declare its own freedom from … pale lemonade ….” And as I myself say, no paleface or forked tongue drinks allowed.
Celebrate Juneteenth/Black Independence Day on June 19. In fact, celebrate it every day. And do it by voting, by serving on juries, by protesting, by petitioning, and by patronizing Black businesses. Oh, I almost forgot — by drinking red stuff on June 19, too.
That includes red wine — a lotta red wine, while you forget about work during your paid holiday.