While Americans remember the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, what many Americans don’t know more than a century and a half later is that some of the southern states did not readily accept that proclamation and made the announcement that freed the slaves years later.
According to the National Register, June 19 is the oldest celebration of the freeing of slaves in the United States, which occurred in 1865. For many African-Americans it holds a special significance. It also reminds the nation how terribly divided it has been. It is a reminder, despite protestations to the contrary, that race continues to be an issue in America. Furthermore political differences continue to surround the notion of states rights versus federal ones, the issue being of prominence in the discussion about banking as well as private business, which were the arguments that precipitated the Civil War. Private business had to do with slaves who were considered property and part of the core of cotton as a business.
So June 19 is not just the date for African-Americans to celebrate. It also peels back the blinders many people have that the freeing of the slaves was some romantic vision, as in some of the old Hollywood movies, such as Gone with the Wind. In that movie, the southern folk were kind enough, understanding and loving servants who were slaves. And the slaves, although grateful and singing about freedom, remain happily in the extended family of former slaves and Masters. But that was not the case, as revealed by the fact that many Southerners would not accept the end of slavery and the bitterness remained until the official proclamation. Still some of that bitterness is part of the echoes of political dissension in the 21st century. Juneteenth speaks to the differences as well as the focus on the nature of freedom itself. That’s why it’s a world celebration.
In Louisiana and in Texas, where African-Americans were not notified that they had been freed for some time after the Emancipation Proclamation, celebrations draw out many people who would not otherwise know the history. The celebrations are a reminder of this difficult time in the United States history and the road so difficult to travel in the political atmosphere nearly 150o years later.