Tag Archives: slavery


Juneteenth banner Laurie and Debbie say:

Juneteenth is a much undervalued and underpublicized celebration. Since so many people (except, of course, African Americans) seem to not know about it, or not know much about it, here’s some history:

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

The Emancipation Proclamation, of course, did not free all enslaved people in the United States, just the ones in the “rebellious states”: in other words, the ones Lincoln couldn’t control. States which permitted  slavery, such as Maryland, which were fighting with the Union, were not affected. Those people were freed at the end of the war, just around the time Granger came to Texas. For enslaved people, the Granger arrival as cataclysmic:

One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former ‘masters’ – attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. …  Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territories. The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.

Where did Juneteenth go, and who was paying attention to it?

In the early years, little interest existed outside the African American community in participation in the celebrations. In some cases, there was outwardly exhibited resistance by barring the use of public property for the festivities. Most of the festivities found themselves out in rural areas around rivers and creeks that could provide for additional activities such as fishing, horseback riding and barbecues. Often church grounds were the site for such activities. Eventually, as African Americans became land owners, land was donated and dedicated for these festivities.  … There are accounts of Juneteenth activities being interrupted and halted by white landowners demanding that their laborers return to work. However, it seems most allowed their workers the day off and some even made donations of food and money. For decades these annual celebrations flourished, growing continuously with each passing year. In Booker T. Washington Park, as many as 20,000 African Americans once attended during the course of a week, making the celebration one of the state’s largest.

Outside of Texas, the celebration seems to have waxed and waned based on various factors, including what was (and what was not!) taught in the schools.

The Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s yielded both positive and negative results for the Juneteenth celebrations. While it pulled many of the African American youth away and into the struggle for racial equality, many linked these struggles to the historical struggles of their ancestors. This was evidenced by student demonstrators involved in the Atlanta civil rights campaign in the early 1960’s, who wore Juneteenth freedom buttons. Again in 1968, Juneteenth received another strong resurgence through the Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C. Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor. Many of these attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas previously absent of such activities. In fact, two of the largest Juneteenth celebrations founded after this March are now held in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

Quotes from Juneteenth.com

Abernathy’s direct successor, Reverend Dr. William Barber, has been leading a new Poor People’s Campaign for over a year now. Tune in tomorrow or Sunday to join and/or learn more (details at the link).

Today, in the height of the Black Lives Matter uprising, Juneteenth is all over the news, and there are celebrations in a great many cities. In unprecedented attention to the day, both South and North Dakota are officially recognizing Juneteenth Day today. Some corporations, including Debbie’s employer, have made it a company holiday for the first time. Holidays, celebration, and very belated recognition are a tiny part of the process, and at the same time, they matter. We see today as a day for celebration, and also for reflection: white people need to contend on Juneteenth and the other 364 days of the year with what white supremacy has wrought, and how to dismantle it.

Ibram Kendi: The 4th of July and “The Resisting Rest of Us”


U.S. Congressman John Lewis

Debbie says:

Before the long weekend is over, I want to be sure to call attention to Professor Ibram X. Kendi’s superb essay, “What to an American is the 4th of July?” published on July 4 in The Atlantic. Kendi is, of course, jumping off from Frederick Douglass‘s famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Let’s start by quoting Douglass:

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence…. Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous? Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men, shout—“We have Washington to our father.” Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is.

Read the whole speech, linked above. Douglass must have been a remarkable orator.

Kendi, one of the great anti-racist scholars of our time, tackles the same issue from the perspective of 150+ years later, with the thoughtfulness, care, and grounded rage which are his hallmarks:

He starts with John Adams:

Who did John Adams include in “our Struggle”? Just the wealthy white men assembled with him in Philadelphia? Who was “our Struggle” truly for? Who really declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776? Who was really in the process of becoming free?

In 1776, Adams was already being reminded by his wife Abigail that his struggles for freedom were ignoring “the Ladies,” who “will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no … Representation.”

Kendi continues …

As we know all too well today, wealthy white American men did not stop rebelling when they won the American Revolution, when they gained the power to protect their declared independence. They continued to rebel to keep their power. They, “the Patriots.” The rest of us have continued our rebellions because we have yet to gain the power to be free. The resisting rest of us, “the unpatriotic.”

On this Fourth of July, the rest of us—and our wealthy white male allies—should be celebrating our ongoing struggles for freedom and not celebrating as if we are free. We should be celebrating our disobedience, turbulence, insolence, and discontent about inequities and injustices in all forms. We should be celebrating our form of patriotism that they call unpatriotic, our historic struggle to extend power and freedom to every single American. This is our American project.

Because power comes before freedom, not the other way around. Power creates freedom, not the other way around.

After a clear-eyed analysis of that bolded point (emphasis mine), Kendi underlines his central point:

Pundits talk of American disunity as if the divide is brothers and sisters fighting. This is a power divide. Let’s not ask why the master and the slave are divided. Let’s not ask why the tyrant and the egalitarian are divided. Let’s not ask why the sexist and the feminist are divided. Let’s not ask why the racist and the anti-racist are divided. The reasons should be self-evident. There’s no healing these divides or bringing these powers together.

America is the story of powerful people struggling to keep their disproportionate amount of power from people who are struggling for the power to be free.

I might wish here that Kendi had acknowledged that some of the divide is brothers and sisters fighting, that far too many of the powerless have aligned themselves with the master, the tyrant, the sexist, and the racist, for reasons that are endlessly discussed elsewhere. The divide that I hope can be healed is not any of the ones he names, but the one between people whose true interests I believe lie (or should lie) with the slave, the egalitarian, the feminist, and the anti-racist, but who would profoundly disagree with this analysis. However, Kendi can’t be faulted for not making my points.

He goes on to clarify for himself a commonly confused question of identity:

As a resistant black man in America, I’ve never felt like a slave. But I’ve never felt free. And I understand why. I have the power to resist policy, a resistance that ensures I’m not a slave. But I don’t have the power to shape policy, a power that makes me free.

Read this whole essay after you read the whole Douglass speech.

Two more tidbits: 1) the mug shot at the top of this post is U.S. Congressman John Lewis from the days when he was an active freedom fighter in the U.S. Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. His autobiography, Walking with the Wind, is one of the most important books I’ve read in the past few  years. (Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is another.)

2) This was my favorite 4th of July tweet, from the trenchant (and often funny) Wajahat Ali:

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