Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Hidden Truths About Juneteenth

June 11, 2023 by  
Filed under Conversation

Claytee D. White

BY CLAYTEE D. WHITE

My Juneteenth presentations are different from those authorized by the official National Juneteenth Committee. I try to add additional facts for those who have forgotten those high school history classes. 

The opening paragraph of the White House’s “A Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observation, 2022” reads: “After the Union Army captured New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Confederate states migrated to Texas with more than 150,000 enslaved Black persons. For 3 years, even after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Black Americans in Texas remained in brutal bondage, immorally and illegally deprived of their freedom and basic dignity. 

“On June 19, 1865 — more than 2 years after President Lincoln declared all enslaved persons free — Major General Gordon Granger and Union Army troops marched to Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and free the last enslaved Black Americans in Texas.” 

I’d like to add some additional facts. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, declared “that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are, and henceforward shall be free.” This document left slavery firmly in place in those slave-holding states loyal to the Union. However, this Proclamation turned the direction of the war because it allowed Blacks to enlist in the fight. Additionally, the Emancipation Proclamation worked like this: As soon as an enslaved person escaped the control of his or her owner, either by running away across Union lines or through the advance of federal troops, the person was permanently free. What? After the EP, the enslaved still had to run away? YES 

The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865. That is the day that General Lee surrendered to General Grant. Then and only then, did federal soldiers make their way throughout the confederate states announcing the emancipation of the enslaved. General Granger arrived in Texas on June 18, 1865, two months after most free and enslaved people began receiving the announcement. Granger reached Galveston two months after the announcements began, not two years. This history is correct according to when you believe slavery ended. And the final twist to the story: Officially, slavery ended with the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment, which was ratified on December 6, 1865. 

And the last point connects Nevada and Mississippi. Many of you know that Nevada, including Las Vegas, is still referred to as the Mississippi of the West. Mississippi did not officially ratify the 13th Amendment until 1995, 130 years later! Mississippi did not file that paperwork for ratification until February 7, 2013. 

To end this article, I’d like to highlight a lighter side of Juneteenth: the food. Red food is served because the more common foods of enslavement were white, green, or brown. Many African nations that fueled the slave trade toward the end of the institution — Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Congo — placed philosophical and spiritual value in the color red, symbolizing sacrifice, transition, and power. Thus, the importance of watermelon, red drinks, red velvet cake, red beans & rice, and red sauce-covered barbecued meats. Other foods — collard greens, sweet potatoes — represented prosperity and wealth. In my family, those foods were also served on New Year’s Day. I did not learn about Juneteenth until I migrated from North Carolina to California.

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