Thursday, June 19, 2008

What's up with "Juneteenth"?

"But out of either ignorance — or indifference — many blacks persist in their efforts to make Juneteenth a national holiday." --DeWayne Wickham

Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas on January 1, 1980, through the efforts of Al Edwards, State Legislator. Representative Edwards actively sought to spread the observance of Juneteenth all across America.
 Today, 27 states recognize “Juneteenth” as an official state holiday. But what's up the holiday that purportedly commemorates the fact that some Blacks in Texas learned about their freedom nearly two years too late? Here is DeWayne Wickham's (USA Today, 3/12/07) view:

Real Black History Too Often Gathers Dust
"Now that Black History Month is over, I have something to say about black history: Let's get it right.

For too many African-Americans, black history has become a twisted mix of urban legend and pop culture. And for more than a few whites, the truth of the treatment their racial ancestors meted out to blacks is buried beneath a mountain of denied history.

What am I talking about? To begin with, there's Juneteenth. For years it has been hawked by black advocates as a "commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States." It was on June 19, 1865, that blacks on Galveston Island, Texas, were told of the Emancipation Proclamation, which actually freed few slaves.

Abraham Lincoln's wartime proclamation, which took effect Jan. 1, 1863, freed slaves in parts of the South controlled by the Confederacy where the order could not be enforced, and left in bondage slaves in places under Union army control.

By the time blacks on Galveston Island were told of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War was over, and that presidential act was widely believed to have no effect in states that had returned to the Union. So in January 1865, Congress passed a constitutional amendment that outlawed slavery.

The End of Slavery
Slavery in the USA officially ended Dec. 6, 1865, when the 13th Amendment was ratified. But out of either ignorance — or indifference — many blacks persist in their efforts to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Then there is the issue of what caused the Civil War. More than a few whites now say the bloody conflict was fought over states' rights — and not slavery. I suspect this dodge has found supporters among a lot of people who have never bothered to read the constitution adopted by the 11 states that formed the Confederacy.

That document, adopted in March 1861, just one month before Confederate forces fired the first salvo in the Civil War, is irrefutable evidence of the South's motivation for seceding from the Union. It forbade the enactment of any law "denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves." It also mandated that territories or states that might later join the Confederacy would allow slavery to exist within their borders.

Slave vs. Free States
These two measures were an obvious response to the KansasNebraska Act, which the U.S. Congress enacted in 1854. That law sought to temper the competing demands of slavery supporters and opponents over how the two states would be admitted into the Union. The abolitionists wanted them to be admitted as free states, and the pro-slavery forces pushed for them to come in as slave states. Under the federal law, the people of those new states were allowed to decide whether slavery would be allowed within their borders. That move threatened the delicate balance between slave and free states and — combined with the election of Lincoln — pushed the South toward a breakaway war.

Finally, there is this: Democrats did create the Ku Klux Klan, Black Codes and Jim Crow laws. When the National Black Republican Party said as much last year in a radio commercial, the group came under a blistering attack. But the Klan was created by Southern Democrats. So, too, were the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws, which were used in the South to relegate blacks to a subservient social position, and restrict their political and legal rights.

The black GOP organization was historically correct in what it said. But in trying to link the bad acts of Southern Democrats of a bygone era with the Democratic Party of today, the group went too far.

Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond were the linear successors of those mean-spirited Southern Democrats. They and others like them found a home in the Republican Party when they were frustrated in their opposition to black civil rights gains of the 1960s.

This is the history that isn't widely taught during Black History Month."
(Image by Benny Joseph. 1976 Juneteenth Parade, Houston.)

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