What to the American Negro in the twenty-first century is Juneteenth?
I posit this question because of the many social media references for Juneteenth. The apparent reference is to June 19, 1865, as the day slavery ended for enslaved Africans in the United States of America.
Nothing could be further from the truth. To accept this date as the exact day freedom came is to denigrate the courage exemplified by the brave sons of Africa who fought to gain their freedom during the War between the States.
My people let’s be clear, the enslavement of Africans officially ended on April 9, 1865, when Lee Surrendered at Appomattox, nearly two months before Texans announced to the Africans enslaved in that state that enslaved people in Texas, like people in other places in the Union, was free.
Juneteenth is not the day of liberation for Black people. It is a day like no other day that represents the hoax of freedom the government pulled over the eyes of those held in bondage.
On April 9, 1865 authorities in Texas knew Lee’s surrender ended the war, and any claim southern States had on the lives of Black people held captive within their borders was lost with the Union’s victory. But Texas officials ignored the reality that the South had lost the war with the North, and pretended before their human captives, that nothing had changed that altered the relationship between the prisoners and the captors.
On June 19, 1865, a contingent of Union soldiers arrived in Texas and forced the hand of local authorities to release those enslaved within the state. This announcement was the first time that Blacks in Texas learned they were free. White people who enslaved them had known for two months that Blacks were free to leave the fields and negotiate a fair wage for an honest day’s labor.
Juneteenth, therefore, celebrates the day Blacks in Texas learned the war was over, and they were no longer subject to a master. A grand celebration erupted in the fields, in the barns, and Massa’s house. This celebration continues to this very day throughout the country where Black Texans have migrated.
After bringing the Juneteenth celebration to other Black communities in the country, Black people started participating in the Juneteenth celebrations of their Texan neighbors. Juneteenth is a unique celebration for Black Texans, as it should be, given the deception of white Texans in 1865.
In other parts of the country, Black people gained their freedom beginning on January 1, 1863, in any territory controlled by the Union Army. Eighteenth-century Africans living in America understood the language in the Emancipation Proclamation much better than their 21st-century progenies.
Black men understood that according to Lincoln’s law, freedom was wherever the Union Army was. When Union troops came into an area, Black men followed them, so closely, that Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois documents General William Sherman’s plead for them to stop following him because there were too many to feed.
Sherman soon realized that he could use Black soldiers to surround the cities he liberated to prevent Confederate fighters from re-entering the city and engaging his men in guerilla warfare.
Black troops surrounded Atlanta, Jonesboro, and in Macon, Georgia Black soldiers wearing Confederate uniforms, with a Union belt buckle, secured the city from the Rebels. When Black forces surrounded the courthouse at Appomattox, it brought Robert E. Lee to his knees. This information is the truth, contrary to what the whitewashed American textbook says.
The fact of the matter in many of the southern States, Black troops fought for their freedom and the freedom of their wives and children.
Juneteenth is a beautiful observance when kept in perspective; it was the day; the federal government ended the ruse Texas had perpetrated upon those held in bondage within its borders.
When we celebrated Juneteenth, we are celebrating the joy felt by Black Texans when they learned they were freed for two months and no longer required to slave on Massa’s plantation.
History is liberating. History, also matters, especially as Africans press the United States Congress for a Bill of Reparations.
When we come to the table to discuss reparations for the enslavement of our ancestor and the laws that have prevented us from throwing off the financial shackles of servitude, we must come to the table clothe in the full strength and power of our history and not the distorted myths told about our history in the schoolhouses of America.
Each time the original narrative is altered, ever so slightly, we lose a bit of the richness of our story, our history. It is important to pass down correct information for such a time as a new generation may rise and want to take care of business. The new generation needs the truth, and not an empty twenty-first-century catchphrase, which without a historical context, Juneteenth is.
Celebrate Juneteenth but know you are celebrating when Black Texans found out what other Blacks in the American diaspora already knew.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. Harvey is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received because of his pro bono representation of students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Medium, and Black College Nines. Contact him at email@example.com.