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Happy Juneteenth (Whatever That Is)

June 19, 2020

Maybe it’s the current protests around the George Floyd killing. Maybe it’s the emerging exposure of Black Lives Matter. Whatever it is, Juneteenth seems to have gotten more attention this year than years past.

March 1861 – Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated the 16th president of the United States and the founder of the Republican party on a staunch anti-slavery platform.

The Southern states knew that the fragile “compromise” that had kept the balance between slave and free states would not survive Lincoln’s term.

April 12, 1861 – Conferate forces open fire on Fort Sumpter in South Carolina marking the start of hostilities in the Civil war

Eventually, 11 states would leave the Union to form the Confederacy. Ironically, nearly the same number of colonies that rebelled against England 85 years earlier. Some states split. West Virginia, for example, was made up of anti-slave supporters. They became a separate state.

And not all slave states joined the Confederacy. Maryland, Missouri, Deleware and Kentucky were slave states, but remained in the Union. The South was very much fighting to preserve slavery. The North was fighting to preserve the Union.

However, it eventually became clear to President Lincoln that an all out war required all out effort.

September 22, 1862 – President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in rebellious states currently under occupation by Union forces

Contrary to popular belief the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all the slaves. President Lincoln understood that he, as head of the Executive Branch, did not have the authority to change state laws, even states in rebellion.

But, what he did have power to do was make rules governing the area under direct Federal military control. So, he could free the slaves located in areas within the states that had rebelled where the Federal troops were occupying.

January 1, 1863 – Emancipation proclamation goes into effect

The Emancipation Proclamation eventually freed 3.5 million enslaved Americans. As the Army advanced, slaves were freed as soon as the area they were in changed hands from the Confederacy to the Union. Eventually, the entire rebellious Southern states were occupied and all the slaves in those 13 states were freed.

Ironically, there were still slaves in the United States. Remember those slave states that remained in the Union? The slaves in those states were still slaves.

April 9, 1865 – The Civil War effectively comes to a end with the surrender of General Robert E Lee. The war would officially end 16 months later when President Andrew Johnson declares a formal end to the conflict in August 1866

Lee was not the commander of the Southern Forces. He was General of the Army of Northern Virginia. Unlike the Northern forces, the Southern Armies were divided into state armies. Jefferson Davis was in charge of the entire Sourthern forces.

April 15, 1865 – President Lincoln is assissinated just a week after the surrender of General Lee marking the beginning of the end of the war

President Lincoln rightly is credited with winning the war and freeing the slaves. He had won reelection less than a year earlier and had he lived to serve out the remainder of his term, who knows how much life in the United States might have been different.

June 19, 1865 – Juneteenth, General Gordon Granger makes an announcement in Galvaston, TX pursuant to the Emancipation Proclamation that all slaves in Texas are now free. This marks the last group of slaves to hear they have been freed by Executive Order.

Galvaston, TX was deemed to be the last area emancipated. Ironically, the Union slave states were still not emancipated.

December 18, 1865 – XIII Amendment is ratified abolishing slavery except in cases of punishment of a crime

The 13th Amendment finally abolished slavery in all states. It was only the first of three reconstruction amendments.

July 9, 1868 – XIV Amendment adopted. It provides for equal protection under the law for all citizens

The 14th Amendment extended all the rights to every citizen. Effectively barring laws targeted at denying rights to freed slaves. In spite of this, Jim Crow laws were passed enforcing segregation. On May 17, 1954 in Brown vs The Board of Education, the Supreme Court voted unanimously that Jim Crow laws were unconstitutional. They cited the 14th Amendment in their decision.

February 3, 1870 – XV Amendment adopted granted all men the right to vote. (Women wouldn’t get the vote until August 26, 1920 when the adoption of the 19th Amendment.)

Juneteenth is a funny name for a holiday. At least the day being remembered is actually in June. And the day ends in “teenth.” It’s not just a holiday for members of one ethnic group. It’s a day that marks an important moment in the history of America.

A moment that I’m sorry I didn’t learn about in school. It’s a moment that I hope my children and grandchildren will learn about in school.

We cannot achieve the future we desire without underderstanding our past. And Juneteenth is an important part of that past.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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