African-Americans celebrate the Fourth of July along with all other Americans; however it should be noted that because of America's birth defect of slavery, the Fourth of July does come with some baggage. Today on June 19th, many Africans Americans will be participating in Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States of America.

    On the Union side, the Civil War was initially about saving the Union. Slaves who were captured by Union troops were returned to their slave-owners. Subsequently, because slaves were important to the Confederacy by providing labor on the farms and support for Confederate troops as servants and other menial tasks, freeing the slaves became a useful tactic for damaging the efficiency of the Confederate troops. On the Confederate side, the war was about not being able to expand slavery. After the war, Confederates argued that the Civil War was about "State’s Rights."

    Amid the growing abolitionist movement, Southern states succeeded in getting a number of laws passed to protect slavery. There was a gag rule that prohibited petitions against slavery from even being discussed in Congress. The law that eventually led to a showdown, however, was the Fugitive Slave Law passed in 1850. This law allowed owners to capture and return runaway slaves even if they escaped to the Free states. It further required Northerners to assist in this recovery, under threat of stiff penalty. This infuriated abolitionists, and opposition to slavery grew even stronger. The valiant but misguided attempt of rebellion by John Brown further solidified the battle lines. Following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, Southern slaveholding states formerly withdrew from the union.

    Anti-slavery sentiment grew stronger as the war got underway. Republicans in the Congress passed two emancipation acts in 1862 abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia (April 16, 1862) and in all territories of the United States (June 19, 1862). Other congressional action for forbade Union soldiers from returning runaway slaves. A second Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862 declared all slaves of rebel masters "forever free." All this occurred before Lincoln issued his proclamation. Lincoln was not the first issue in "Emancipation Proclamation". Gen. John Fremont with Gen. David Hunter issued an Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves in their military districts. They were overruled by Lincoln himself, who feared that slaveholding states such as Missouri, Delaware, and Maryland might join the Confederacy. Lincoln was eventually pressured politically and militarily into taking a stronger stand and therefore submitted the Emancipation Proclamation.

    Pres. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, notifying the states in rebellion against the union that, if they did not cease their rebellion and return to the Union by January 1, 1863, he would declare their slaves forever free. Importantly, the population did not apply to both slaveholding states that are not rebuild against the union. About 800,000 slaves were unaffected by the provisions of the proclamation. Of course, the proclamation was ignored by the states that had seceded from the Union. It would take a Civil War to fully enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. It would take the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution to formally outlaw slavery in the United States of America.

    Frederick Douglass put the situation of the slaves thusly:

    "We have worked without wages, we have lived without hope, wept without sympathy and bled without mercy…”

    Texas represented a special case. Confederate forces in Texas Hill the wine and there was little incursion of Union troops into Texas. By the 1850s, the majority of cowboys in East Texas were enslaved blacks. The growth of the cotton industry led to increased need for slaves to work in the fields. The Texas census of 1860 listed only 355 free blacks and nearly 200,000 slaves. Slaves worked from "can't see" in the morning to "can't see" at night. There were a few organized slave rebellions in Texas, but because the Mexican government opposed slavery, escapes into Mexico were not uncommon, especially from southwestern Texas. Mexico refused to sign an extradition to treaty with the United States for return of fugitive slaves. By 1855 more than 4000 escapees had made their way to northern Mexico. Slavery was strongly supported in antebellum Texas because slaveholder's dominated economic like there. Slave labor produce 90% of the cotton in Texas, and cotton was Texas is main cash crop.

    Since there was little impact of slavery in Texas during the Civil War, slave-owners from Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri sent their slaves westward to Texas. It is estimated that more than 200,000 enslaved blacks were sent to Texas so the slaveholder could avoid the confiscation and liberation of their human property by the Union forces. News of the Emancipation Proclamation was suppressed in Texas. Years later, former slaves reflected on the Civil War years as a time of increased beatings and hardship. The harshest punishments were given to those who spoke favorably about Pres. Lincoln or the Union cause.

    As the war continued and Confederate losses mounted, news of impending freedom couldn't be suppressed in Texas. In early 1865, word spread that Union forces would soon be in control of Texas. When Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with his troops, large throngs of enslaved blacks turned out to greet him. On June 19, 1865 he issued General Orders Number Three, announcing emancipation of the slaves in Texas. General Orders Number Three that began Texas Reconstruction. Sadly, the proclamation showed more concern for order and stability than for the newly acquired rights of black people. Granger's order encouraged the freedmen to sign labor contracts and remain with their old masters. Many of the slaves left their masters immediately upon being freed in search of family members, economic opportunities or simply because they could. Many were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs and hope in their hearts. June 19th became a day of celebration for Texas blacks.

    At the beginning of Reconstruction, rumors were rampant that every freedman would be given 40 acres and a mule. Ex-slaves petitioned for land, but were met with fierce opposition. As a result, many were forced to participate in a sharecropping system that guaranteed little change from the conditions of slavery. By the end of Reconstruction in 1877, blacks were abandoned to the will of the old slaveholding whites. The Klan and Jim Crow laws succeeded in disenfranchising the newly freed blacks.

    Despite all the setbacks, blacks in Texas have celebrated Juneteenth as the day of freedom since the end of the Civil War. There were documented celebrations of Juneteenth in Dallas as early as 1866, the year after the slaves in Texas were freed. Religious celebrations were held, there were horse racing competitions, picnics and music. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the holidays were celebrated all over Texas and in neighboring states. Through the efforts of Texas State Representative. Al Edwards, Juneteenth became a legal holiday in Texas in 1980.

    Milwaukee, Wisconsin boasts one of the largest celebrations in the country with more than 100,000 people attending. Other cities such as Kansas City, Los Angeles and Houston draw large crowds as well. Comanche Crossing near Mexia, Texas was home to some of the largest Juneteenth celebrations in Texas. The celebration near Mexia dates back to 1889 and is among the oldest in the country.

    Over the years the celebration has evolved into four main components. There is a midmorning parade, a noontime commemoration service, an afternoon picnic and outdoor recreational activities and an evening dance.

    The holiday is known for its barbecues, baseball games, festivals, rodeos and parades. At some point, the Emancipation Proclamation is red. The Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson is annual traditions as well.

    Note: An interesting reflection on how some aspects of black history have been treated. If you go to Amazon and search for books including the title "Juneteenth", you'll find children's books come up as the search result, a sad commentary.

    Surprisingly though, one of those children's books written by Charles A Taylor, "Juneteenth a Celebration of Freedom" does actually contain most of the important details.

    Enjoy the day.


    Thanks for this.

    I have to say my American history during this period of time could be better.  I know more about the Boer War than I do about the Civil War.  I think for most Americans it gets distilled down to: there was a time when some states had some slaves, then there was a Civil War which the Northerners won and the slaves were freed.  The End.

    Also this is the first time I heard about how African Americans might think about the 4th of July.  The ambivalence at best makes sense.  And that I didn't grasp this before points to the different perspectives of various communities which exist as a manifestation of the communities' shared history and which is (usually) unknown by the other communities.

    I really didn't spend that much time on the Civil War either. It was actually discusions on the Civil at TPM and dagblog that got me reading more about the Civil war era. It was only very recently that I learned that the stories of armed Black troops fighting for the Confederacy were essentially myths.

    In a country with history lessons that included George Washington and the cherry tree, it's not surprising that we have gaps in knowledge.

    My Dad used to drag us to Civil War battlefields, so I have a "dioramic" view of the War.

    Sadly, website "The Root" reports that 27 million people worldwide are being held as slaves today.Cases include the recent prosecution of a Nigerian woman who holding fellow Nigerians in bondage and forcing them to serve as servants for upscale homes located in upscale areas north of Atlanta.


    Great, terse to the point take on history.


    Thanks for this post.

    Reading the Blight book, Race and Reunion, prompted me to wonder "Who will be Obama's Frederick Douglass?"  

    IIRC, pre-campaign Obama in his writings noted the critical importance of having powerful, compelling outside prompting/pressure, including from extraordinary figures such as Douglass, in making hard and good things happen in a country's politics.  

    By far the most important person with a last name sounding like "Douglass" in Lincoln's life was Frederick, not Steven.  The latter Lincoln had to surpass on his path to power.  The former may have enabled Lincoln to surpass himself, the person he otherwise might have been.  That is greatness.  Oh, and Lincoln embodied greatness as well, in his own ways.

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