Juneteenth and the Soul of America, Part 2

Juneteenth and the Soul of America, Part 2

Freedom: Celebrating Juneteenth by Everett Spruill

Image: Freedom: Celebrating Juneteenth by Everett Spruill

Juneteenth and the Soul of America, Part 2

 This two-part blog post is adapted with permission from Juneteenth and the Soul of America, a presentation given for Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) in June 2020.

Juneteenth as Signifying Moment

None of the first Juneteenth celebrants were under the illusion that the Emancipation Proclamation and the subsequent amendment were an actual declaration of freedom and full citizenship. To be clear, it was progress, and better than the whip and the chain, but not full enfranchisement. It was viewed more as a down payment on a promise yet to be fulfilled. Juneteenth was and is an occasion for coming together as a community to celebrate what God has wrought thus far. A time to acknowledge the sacrifices, lost lives, and suffering of those who lived in hope of a better tomorrow, in hope of freedom’s sweet sound.

The late Bishop and theologian Dr. Ithiel Clemmons, of the Church of God in Christ, the largest Black Pentecostal denomination in the US, stated: “Celebrations provide opportunities to reexamine the power, influences, strengths and weaknesses of the original vision in light of history. They give a new generation the opportunity to reflect upon who and why they are and to make a decision about their commitment to carry forward with that vision.” (Clemmons, 1993) Juneteenth offers this type of occasion.

And so on one level, merriment, barbecues, picnics, music, parades and other forms of celebration, red soda water, homemade muscadine wine and gin mark the event. Yet on another level, there is a profound spiritual encounter with the ancestors and the community’s vision for itself, the country and the world. Juneteenth finds at its core an existential moment and hope that transcend current circumstances, no matter what they seem.

Conditions and Challenges

What was the intention and basis for this declaration of Emancipation? The General Order read by Granger casts the definition of freedom in economic terms. The proclamation gave a salute to personal and property rights, but discussed the abolition of slavery and the reorganization of work relations between the formerly enslaved and the erstwhile enslaver. It also admonished the freed men and women about idleness and that essentially “there is no free lunch.”

Clearly, Lincoln’s intention in declaring the emancipation was a tactical maneuver. He states in a letter dated August 22, 1862, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

Reparations for previous injustices should be the option of a human being who was wronged and injured. This was brought up but never came to fruition. On January 16, 1865, Union General William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15, which redistributed roughly 400,000 acres of land confiscated from Southern planters to newly freed black families in 40-acre segments. This order was never carried out. Reconstruction, which lasted from 1865 to 1877, made efforts to redress the inequities of slavery and its political, social, and economic legacy. These efforts, however, were quickly derailed and abandoned.

During these years, Blacks enjoyed civil liberties in the South and were able to vote, with some holding elective office at various levels. This period was short lived. Soon came the rise of the KKK, voter intimidation, public lynchings as spectacle, church burnings and attacks on Black communities. Blacks were driven from Southern states out of fear and violence to other parts of the US, such as the industrialized Northeast, Midwest and West.

“Freedom” Then and Now

My maternal grandfather and grandmother, pregnant with their first son, were also part of these great migrations. They fled Selma, Alabama in 1917, stopped in Louisville, Kentucky to give birth, then settled in Cleveland, Ohio. I would venture that every African American family has a story of forced migration.

What made this terrible circumstance palatable for many, in addition to the amelioration of racialized violence primarily directed at Black men, was the hope of finding a better life on the other end of the trail. They migrated from fear and violence, which were known, to a future that was unknown, an act of tremendous faith and courage. This act is currently reflected in the migration stories of immigrants we see on our borders and in detention centers.

For the next years, the country witnessed a dramatic increase in racialized violence, including riots and other attacks. One of the most infamous occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31 and June 1, 1921, on the eve of Juneteenth, scorching the Greenwood District. An estimated 150 to 300 people were killed, businesses and homes burned, and the hopes of a Black community that was making economic progress were dashed in the ash heap that remained. (Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 | Tulsa Library, n.d.)

Some scholars argue that the US engaged then and now in genocidal practice against Blacks.

The disparity in Black life and death in comparison to the norm speaks volumes about structural and institutional intent. Black people form 33% of the prison population, yet only are 12% of the overall population. (Gramlich, 2020) We see similar divergences in mortality, employment, poverty and literacy rates when compared to the national average. The problem Lincoln and others at the time faced was: What to do with the four million Black people who were no longer needed to pick cotton and produce?

The fact that President 45 selected Tulsa, Oklahoma as a major campaign rally site on Juneteenth is not lost on his base nor the country at large. After critical reaction to this blatant insult to African Americans and the nation as a whole, President 45 acquiesced and moved the rally to June 20th. The selection of Tulsa on this date and this time demarks the territory and racializes his election in terms that could not be clearer. (Trump’s Juneteenth Rally in Tulsa to Inflame Racial Tension | Cornell Chronicle, 2020)

Black Life in America

One consistent theme that recurs in U.S. history from 1619 to the present is the devaluation of Black life. Blacks had lived in the colonies prior to 1619 and historians and archeologists confirm a pre-Columbian African presence in the Americas. Nonetheless, there has been a consistent and concerted effort to circumscribe, delimit, deny and devalue Black life.

In 1619, a group of Africans was exchanged on the high seas for provisions. Following their settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, slavery emerged as an economic choice for agricultural production. As the need for agricultural products increased, so did the economy’s dependence on slave labor. The commodification of Black life was clearly a price the country was willing to pay, with its soul in the balance. Black life was bought, sold, auctioned, assayed, insured, cultivated like chattel, and disposed of when it proved to be of no use, problematic, uppity or challenging.

As early as 1787, the Constitutional Convention determined that the Black vote, and by extension life, would be counted as three-fifths that of Whites. Though this Three-fifths Compromise was for legislative and tax purposes, it codifies and gives voice to the prevailing view of Black life and its worth.

And so Whites justified the mistreatment of Blacks by seeing them as subhuman, an aberration of nature. While the Three-fifths Compromise quantified the value of Black life, the Dred Scott decision in 1857 qualified the value of Black life and rights. In this landmark case, the Supreme Court determined that Blacks had no rights that the white man was bound to respect. (National Park Service)

No Real Rights

What did these policies mean in practical terms? Mr. Charles Washington, who had been a slave for nearly half a century when freedom came, testified to a special examiner with the Bureau of Pensions in 1905, age 89:

“I was born in the state of Florida, and lived there until I was quite a lad of a boy and then I was sold to a man by the name of Thompson, who sold me to a man by the name of Randolph, and was then put into a traders yard at New Orleans, La., and there a man by the name of Dr. Vincent who lived on Joe’s Bayou . . . and he owned me for a long time until I was a grown man and had a wife and three children, and then Dr. Vincent . . . sold me to Mr. James Berry, who lived on the Mississippi River. …

“After I left home to go into the army, Mr. Berry carried all of his slaves who had remained at home, to the state of Texas, and have never heard of any of them. I was a married man, and had three children and he carried them to Texas, and I have never heard of them since.” (Shaffer and Regosin, 2005)

According to historians Donald Shaffer and Elizabeth Regosin, “The removal of slaves to Confederate states more remote from the war, like Texas, was not unusual. Planters in the Mississippi Valley forcibly moved as many as 150,000 slaves into Georgia and Alabama as well as Texas to prevent their liberation by Union forces.” (Shaffer and Regosin, 2005)

Mrs. Laura Smalley, a woman who lived to receive her freedom, described daily life under slavery in a 1941 interview with the Works Progress Administration. Read her story here

Using Black Lives

Black workers were used by planters in the South and meat-packing houses and industry in the Midwest and North. Black women were used to nurse White babies, cook and nourish White homes, plant and feed and comfort White fears. Black lives were used by Lincoln as a chess piece in a war game. Black lives were then used as cannon fodder in the Civil War, Westward expansion of the 1800s, Vietnam War, in Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Black lives were used to build the White House and the vast financial empires on Wall Street and Main Street that still dominate the American economy and culture. Black lives were used as experimental subjects; to serve; to entertain in sports, music, and theatre; and to create swaths of American culture.

Whites used Black lives as objects to vent frustration and ease their conscience for the sin of racism. And so the lynchings become a way of purging White conscience of its guilt, of silencing and obliterating the very object of its scorn. The blood spilled on the cotton fields and in the streets of America today cries out to God for justice. Just as Abel’s blood cried out in Genesis, so too is Black blood crying out in this Revelation of God’s justice. The jazz trumpet in its sinewy discourse, with no words, speaks volumes about the trouble we have seen. The trumpet becomes a way of quieting fears, and appropriates the transcendent tonality of Gabriel’s horn in seeking God’s judgment for this pernicious evil.

Juneteenth and the Ethical Imperative

Juneteenth is thus seen as an ethical construct, one that addresses where we are as a nation and where we ought to be. It is grounded in a particular historical circumstance, yet reaches into the present with authoritative clarity. While the first Juneteenth celebrants were not particularly literate, they understood the text and subtext of the Emancipation Proclamation and the General Orders issued by the commanding generals. The celebrants of Juneteenth read and discerned the times, the competing trends and historicity of the moment. They also understood God’s movement in the moment and that they had a date with destiny, as Dr. Martin Luther King would later say.

Juneteenth celebration on one level commemorates the act of emancipation. It says we have shaken off the shackles of slavery and are free from being owned by another human being. This is a momentous occasion, a time for mirth and merriment.

Yet, on the other level, Juneteenth is also a call to see that the promises of Emancipation are broadened to every aspect of one’s life as a child of God. It recognizes our birthright of freedom and blessing from God. On this level, Juneteenth challenges us to resume the work of freedom and not rest until we, and by extension everyone, are free.

Juneteenth is a witness to all who suffer the weight of being marginalized in this society. The palpable sense of being disregarded, dehumanized, hunted and killed is known to others in this society. Juneteenth is a repudiation and rejection of the category of “other.” By categorizing a group of people as “other,” Whites use themselves as the standard and benchmark by which to measure all others. “Other” allows the commodification of the neighbor and relieves the protagonist from ethical responsibility to treat others fairly or justly. By dehumanizing the other person, or arguing that they have some moral, intellectual or spiritual deficiency, it makes room for maltreatment of that person or group.

Immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia fit into this category of other. Women are frequently labeled as other and not worth equal pay for equal work. LGBTQI+ people are considered other and worthy of derision and shame.

Resistance, Hope, and Redemption

Juneteenth is also a form of protest and resistance. The Blacks who celebrated Juneteenth in 1866 and later clearly understood the Emancipation was intended as a limited provision. In some ways this could be considered a cruel jest, as no provision was made to make them whole. The Emancipation Proclamation made no provision for reparative or restorative justice. It made no space in the square of public discourse for a moment of truth and reconciliation. Blacks understood that celebrating Juneteenth was a form of protest of the proclamation’s shortcomings and the continuing oppression they experienced.

Juneteenth is also an affirmation of hope, that truth crushed to the ground will rise up. That the God of tomorrow will make it right. It is a declaration that no matter what the dominant society conjures up to continue its oppression – be it the prison industrial complex; police shootings that declare open season on Black life, or gross disproportionality in health, education, mortality and wealth – there will be a redemptive day when “justice will roll on like many waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing river.”

The beauty of Juneteenth is that at its core, it also seeks the redemption and reconstruction of White humanity. It believes that everyone can and should be treated as equals. Juneteenth believes in the restoration of justice and righteousness. It believes that the cancer of racism that eats away the humanity of those who partake in it can be cured, that Whites can be made whole.

Of particular importance are the voices of the faith community. Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism have, when operating at their best, affirmed the inestimable worth of human life. That human life is sacred and to be respected, cherished and affirmed. These faith traditions then and now have continued to challenge the prevailing ethos of dehumanization in America. They raise a challenge to police brutality, environmental degradation of God’s creation, the meanness, violence and callous disregard for the suffering of others.

Juneteenth creates a space where life can be affirmed, where people of conscience can gather and celebrate Black history and achievement. It is a symbol for what is possible when we work together and also a reminder that we are still working for justice, peace and an inclusive world.



Allen, Renee. Quilt artwork entitled Juneteenth.

BlackPast. (2008, September 29). (1865) General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 •. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/special-field-orders-no-15/

Clemmons, I. (1993). And Still the Church Triumphs: Although Challenged, the Nation’s Last Best Hope”. St. Paul’s Anniversary Program, Anniversary Program.

Douglass, F. (1852). Oration. Lee Mann and Company.

Freedom At Antietam (U.S. National Park Service). (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://www.nps.gov/articles/freedom-at-antietam.htm

GALVESTON.COM: Historical Marker: Juneteenth. (n.d.). Galveston, TX. Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://www.galveston.com/whattodo/tours/self-guided-tours/historical-markers/juneteenth/

Gramlich, J. (2020, May 6). Black imprisonment rate in the U.S. has fallen by a third since 2006. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/05/06/share-of-black-white-hispanic-americans-in-prison-2018-vs-2006/

Interview with Laura Smalley, Hempstead, Texas, 1941 (part 1 of 5). (n.d.). [Audio]. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://www.loc.gov/item/afc1941016_afs05496a/

Jones, M. (2020, January 17). 3/5 Compromise: The Definition Clause that Shaped The Future. https://historycooperative.org/three-fifths-compromise/

Lentz, S. R. (2020, June 18). Juneteenth: Black Americans’ True Independence Day. UT News. https://news.utexas.edu/2020/06/18/juneteenth-black-americans-true-independence-day/

Map of Free and Slave States in 1860 · SHEC: Resources for Teachers. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/2008

Marini, R., and Davis, V. (2020, June 18). A powerful celebration of freedom, Juneteenth has spread beyond Texas to the rest of the country. https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/A-celebration-of-freedom-Juneteenth-has-spread-15350019.php

Melba Newsome and 2021. (2021, April 6). What is Juneteenth? Taste of Home. https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/what-is-juneteenth/

National Park Service. (n.d.). The Dred Scott Case—Gateway Arch National Park (U.S. National Park Service). Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://www.nps.gov/jeff/planyourvisit/dredscott.htm

Presidential Proclamation (September 22, 1862) | Lincoln’s Writings. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://housedivided.dickinson.edu/sites/lincoln/presidential-proclamation-september-22-1862/

Shaffer, D., and Regosin, E. (2005, Winter). Voices of Emancipation. National Archives. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/winter/voices.html

The Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862. (2018, April 16). We’re History. http://werehistory.org/the-compensated-emancipation-act-of-1862/

The Emancipation Proclamation. (2015, October 6). National Archives. https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation

The First Black Watch Night Service in America. (n.d.). African American Registry. Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://aaregistry.org/story/the-first-black-watch-night-service-occurs-in-america/

Timeline | Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation | Articles and Essays | Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress | Digital Collections | Library of Congress. (n.d.). [Web page]. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://www.loc.gov/collections/abraham-lincoln-papers/articles-and-essays/abraham-lincoln-and-emancipation/timeline/

Timeline of Emancipation. (n.d.). UM Clements Library. Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://clements.umich.edu/exhibit/proclaiming-emancipation/timeline-of-emancipation/

Trump’s Juneteenth rally in Tulsa to inflame racial tension | Cornell Chronicle. (2020, June 12). https://news.cornell.edu/media-relations/tip-sheets/trumps-juneteenth-rally-tulsa-inflame-racial-tension

Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 | Tulsa Library. (n.d.). Retrieved June 11, 2021, from https://www.tulsalibrary.org/tulsa-race-riot-1921

Juneteenth and the Soul of America, Part 1

Juneteenth and the Soul of America, Part 1

Juneteenth artwork quilt by Renee Allen. Courtesy of Art History Kids

Juneteenth and the Soul of America, Part 1

This two-part blog post is adapted with permission from Juneteenth and the Soul of America, a presentation given for Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) in June 2020.

“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.

“Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them.” (Douglass, 1852)

Frederick Douglass, a formerly enslaved person, delivered these words on July 5, 1852, at an Independence Day celebration. They asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” This transports us to the crux of our observance of Juneteenth. It speaks to the divided nation, where brothers and sisters in God’s family are set one against another and the deplorable in our worst imaginings becomes real. Juneteenth challenges, in clearly prophetic terms, the premises of our national independence day. It points toward its own hopes and aspirations: the construction of an alternate vision and reality.

Juneteenth has been widely recognized by African Americans and the nation as a whole as a celebration of Black American emancipation from slavery in 1865. Initially celebrated in Texas as Independence Day for African Americans, it tacitly challenged the legitimacy of the 4th of July Independence Day, which Douglass roundly critiqued in his celebrated speech. But since then, Juneteenth has become a national cry for freedom and equality in America – a cry that bursts from the bosoms of African Americans who have been and continue to be treated as less than.

Then and Now

While Juneteenth is seen in a historic light, conditions and problems that existed post–Civil War, when the observance was initially sacralized, continue undeterred in America. These issues center on the dehumanization of Black life, and more pointedly on the deterioration of the American dream and flag under which an entire nation huddles. Moreover, this pernicious evil affects not only African Americans but every other constituency that has worn the label of “other.” This corrosive maleficence affects and inflicts harm on men and women of color, the immigrant, and those maligned due to sexual orientation and health status.

America has witnessed these conditions of dehumanization throughout its history. From the brief honeymoon and experiment of Reconstruction, to the post–Civil War pogroms, Jim Crow era and codified racial segregation, public policy and practices have defined the contours of life, suffering and death for African Americans. In the meantime, the fascination and obsession with Black male as a trope and justification for horrendous evils continues unabated, as evidenced in every segment and sector of American life.

Current events reveal this malaise afflicting the very soul of America. The recent killings of young Black men and women, from Los Angeles, CA and Ferguson, MO to Sanford, FL, Brunswick, GA, Minneapolis, New York and points in between, tell more about us and the State of the Nation than any other sociographic metric or barometer. These killings follow a longstanding tradition of lynchings, disappearances, beatings and physical, cultural and emotional castrations that are synonymous with America.

These acts of police and mob violence on our nation’s streets are compounded by the conspiratorial convergence of corporate greed and a government destined to do its bidding, while playing to the base, reflexive instincts of the larger White population.

Witness, Protest and Hope

To many celebrants, Juneteenth is a time of conviviality, family and community gathering, picnics, barbecues, outdoor performances and festivities, featuring red food and drink. But what does all this have to do with Juneteenth? What does Juneteenth mean to us as Americans? How are we informed and challenged by this celebration?

This writing seeks to offer the Juneteenth celebration as an occasion for witness, protest and hope. It also seeks to galvanize communities of faith and people of conscience with additional insight as a clarion call for change and possibility for America and the world to be just, equitable and participatory.

In the first section, I will provide an overview of the emancipation proclamations, the history of Juneteenth and how it became a nationally observed celebration. The second part will look at the prevailing conditions and challenges that have been constant throughout the country’s history from slavery to the present, as related to Black life and death. The third section studies Juneteenth’s function as an ethical construct. What does Juneteenth have to tell us about our fight for justice, freedom and equality?

Emancipation Proclamations

Contrary to popular knowledge, there was not just one proclamation of emancipation. A number of states had already abolished slavery prior to the Civil War. Pennsylvania was the first state to abolish slavery in 1780. Massachusetts followed in 1783 and New York in 1827. (“Timeline of Emancipation,” n.d.) States were in fact defined on the basis of whether they allowed slavery of not. Thus some states were known as slave states and others as non-slave.

Slavery was practiced primarily in Southern states such as Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Arkansas. In the strategy to win the Civil War, Lincoln abolished slavery as a tactic to disrupt the economies of the Southern States and cause crippling disruption in their way of life. (Map of Free and Slave States in 1860 · SHEC: Resources for Teachers, n.d.)

Lincoln also offered formerly enslaved the ability to join the Union army, another threat to Southern states that fed into their worst fears of a deadly insurrection of Blacks. So, heavily tied to his Civil War campaigns, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. The announcement, on the heels of a military success in Antietam, declared all slaves free in the rebel states as of January 1, 1863. (Freedom At Antietam (U.S. National Park Service), n.d.)

Freedom was in the air in Washington, DC, but not for moral or ethical reasons. On April 16, 1862, Lincoln and Congress ended slavery in DC, through the DC Compensated Emancipation Act. It reimbursed those who had legally owned slaves and offered the newly freed women and men money to emigrate. (“The Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862,” 2018)

“Freedom” Inches Closer

In July 1862, Lincoln tested out the Emancipation Proclamation with the Cabinet. Two months later, in September, he issued the Proclamation that freed those enslaved in Confederate states. (Timeline | Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation | Articles and Essays | Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress | Digital Collections | Library of Congress, n.d.)

The first section reads:

To all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom. (Presidential Proclamation (September 22, 1862) | Lincoln’s Writings, n.d.)

The proclamation was not across the board and universal. It only applied to states in rebellion and not the enslaved people in border states like Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware and Maryland, which had not joined the Confederacy. Union soldiers read the proclamation as they traveled on plantations and cities in Southern states, triggering large numbers of Blacks running to them for protection and transport. Still, where the newly freed were to go was an entirely different matter.

Read an interview with Mrs. Laura Smalley, a formerly enslaved woman, on her experience 

Slavery Abolished at Last

On December 31, 1862, African Americans instituted a “watch night” service as they waited for the Emancipation to go into effect. Watch Night is now a common event in African American churches, where celebrants hold services before midnight to pray in the New Year. (The First Black Watch Night Service in America, n.d.)

The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865. As Texas was the most remote of the slave states, with a low presence of Union troops, enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation had been slow and inconsistent. Thus, on June 19, 1865, two months and 10 days after the war  – and two and a half years after the Proclamation’s signing – Union soldiers went to Galveston, TX and read a general order. Not the Emancipation Proclamation, but a general order based on it that read:

GENERAL ORDERS, No. 3. — 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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

By command of Maj.-Gen. GRANGER.

(The Emancipation Proclamation, 2015)

Later that year, December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment was passed, formally abolishing slavery by amending the Constitution.

The First Emancipation Day

On June 19, 1866, the first celebration commemorating this Emancipation took place in Galveston. In fact, it was called Emancipation Day and later became Juneteenth. (Galveston.Com, n.d.) These celebrations grew in number of participants and formality to include a prayer service, speakers with inspirational messages, reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, stories from former slaves, food, barbecue, red soda water, games, rodeos and dances. (Melba Newsome, 2021)

What started out as a Texas celebration became more widespread. Initially, it spread regionally to Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Then Juneteenth took on a national character as it gained popularity and African American families migrated to the Northeast, Midwest and West. This migratory pattern took place at various intervals following the Civil War and other times, particularly following World War II. (Marini and Davis, 2020)

Some states still observed their own emancipation or independence days; however, Juneteenth became the national holiday of consensus. In fact, 48 states now recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. (Lentz, 2020)

Many people wonder what happened between January 1, 1863 and June 19, 1865. What took so long? With the Civil War still on, the country was still in a state of conflict. Even in areas where Union troops were in control, enforcing proclamations and rules from Washington was difficult, at best. Also, enslavers intensified efforts to hide their enslaved in territories where the Union troops were less prevalent.

In addition, the Proclamation by itself did not make slaves free. Practical questions arose. Where would one go? Or who would tell Master his negroes are free? What challenges and roadblocks would one encounter in leaving the plantation and finding a road to freedom? The release of Black slaves frequently came at the barrel of the Union guns.

Continue to part 2