Juneteenth and Emancipation Day Celebrations
by Joyce Reese McCollum
Emancipation throughout the Diaspora was achieved, as well as celebrated, in diverse ways. Here our project Co-Administrator Joyce Reese McCollum examines the history of Juneteenth and Emancipation Day celebrations.
Image Courtesy Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite, Jr. University of Virginia Exhibit "The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas."
Global Emancipation Dates
The Slavery Abolition Act was passed by the British Parliament on 24th August 1833. The Act did not become law until August 1st 1834 when all slaves in the British colonies were to become emancipated, and slavery was to be abolished throughout the British possessions abroad. This date is remembered and celebrated as a Public Holiday called “Emancipation Day” in most of the ex-British colonies in the Caribbean. Nearly a million and a half British slaves were freed in the Americas when Britain emancipated the slaves in her colonies and instituted their own version of the share cropper system employed in the American south. The British wanted to assure the planters of labor after Emancipation, so they created an apprenticeship system, where slaves older than six years of age were "entitled to be registered as apprenticed laborers and to acquire thereby all rights and privileges of freedom." In return for food, clothing and lodging, but without wages, they were to work for their former owners in the British colonies three-fourths of the day (http://www.caribbeanedu.com/odyssey/Timeliner/timeliner05.asp).
Slavery ended in the Dutch West Indies in 1863.
The first national abolition was declared in the French Revolution of 1789, and maintained afterward only in the independent Republic of Haiti.
Slavery was abolished permanently in the French Empire in 1848, in the Spanish Empire in 1880, and in Brazil in 1888.
On August 1, 1985, Trinidad and Tobago became the first rebulic in the world to declare a national holiday to commemorate the abolition of slavery (http://www.trinidadandtobagonews.com/forum/webbbs_config.pl/noframes/read/1171).
Saudi Arabia and Angola abolished slavery officially only in the 1960s. Although legal slavery was no longer sanctioned, Berber peoples continued to own slaves until at least 1975, and in areas of Africa and Asia, authentic slavery still exists today. Many of the Sudanese people are enslaved at this writing (http://www.freetheslaves.net/slavery_today/slavery.html).
Contrary to popular belief Lincoln, by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, did not free North American slaves completely. The Proclamation provided freedom specifically to slaves in those states that remained loyal to the Confederacy:
“Now, therefore, I Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and Government of the United States, and as fit and necessary war measure for suppressing this rebellion, do on this 1st day of January A.D. 1863 . . . .order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively are this day in rebellion against the United States . . . ..I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are and hence forward shall be free . . ." (http://www.history.umd.edu/Freedmen/chronol.htm).
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified on December 18, 1865, actually freed the slaves including those held in the four Confederate States that did not secede from the Union.
The Beginnings of the Juneteenth Celebration
On June 19th, 1865, two and a half years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, Union Army General Gordon Granger stood on the balcony of the Ashton Villa in Galveston and gave this address:
“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 become 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" (http://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm).
That had to be a great day of celebration! It was also the beginning of a new African American observance.
Blacks in eastern Texas, western Louisiana, southwestern Arkansas and southern Oklahoma adopted June 19th as the official and celebratory date of their independence. In 1980, the Texas legislature designated the 19th as a state holiday. Presently, over half the states in the country have legislated Juneteenth oriented observances of some sort; the U.S. congress has also followed suit, designating June 19th as National Juneteenth Celebration Day.
Emancipation Day Celebrations
Although Juneteenth's popularity has increased as a national day of observance, other states have different dates of celebration.
Emancipation usually came with the Union army in most states. Often the dates of celebration cross state lines. Northwestern Alabama counties celebrate May 8th with neighboring Mississippi counties. Some areas of Arkansas celebrate on August 8th.
Other Southern states hold celebrations on the dates their states received the word and/or were occupied by Northern forces. Florida does so on May 12th; Alabama and Georgia on May 28th; and Tennessee on August 8th.
An example of the festivities is recounted in A History of Lamar County to 1900 by Marie Rose Smith in her chapter titled White Caps And Black History. On page 123 she states:
"Black people annually celebrated the Emancipation observances. In connection with this occasion they began another organization , the B.E.W. (ukn) in 1888."
"In 1889 the B.E.W. met at New Hope Church with four hundred people in attendance, among whom were a large number of Whites. Speakers included Peter Shaw, C.W. Harton, J.C. Smith, W. Brazeal, J.M. Sanifer and S.M. Lacy, all outstanding black men of the county. On the twenty-eighth anniversary of Emancipation in 1893, some of the major participants were B. Stewart, C.B. Stewart, J. B. Atkins and T.A. Allman. The speaker for the day was John M. Davis, a prominent white attorney."
Emancipation Day, whether celebrated in May, August or even February is always a community affair with speeches, fellowship, events and loads of food. It is a truly African American cultural holiday along with Kwanzaa and Watch Night which began on December 31, 1862 with free blacks in the north gathering in churches praying thru the night until the stroke of midnight when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It freed all of the slaves held in states engaged in the War of the Rebellion. This is why the Confederates were called Rebs or Johnny Reb. The southerners called it the War of Northern Aggression. Whatever the war was called, its end bought freedom and a day to memorialize.
The emancipation extended to those held by the Native American tribes, called The 5 Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Creek Nations)of Oklahoma, because they were slaveholders, and several factions fought on the side of the Confederacy. At the end of the Civil War, the US government punished the 5 Civilized Tribes for their involvement with the Confederacy by taking as much as 90% of the lands those nations formerly held. The Treaty entered into with the United States in 1866 required each of the 5 nations to end slavery forever and to give the new Freedmen tribal rights and benefits (http://www.freedmen5tribes.com/History.htm).
Although it is hardly ever taught in history books, The New England states were slave states also, and New England capital and slave ships kept the triangular slave route active long after the New England states proclaimed all slaves freed.
To read an article on Rhode Island's involvement with the slave trade - See the Priscilla's Homecoming website.
The dates of Emancipation in the New England states were:
New York: 1827
Rhode Island: 1842
New Jersey: 1865
New Hampshire: 1857 (A commonly accepted date for the end of slavery in New Hampshire is 1857, when an act was passed stating that "No person, because of decent, should be disqualified from becoming a citizen of the state." The act is interpreted as prohibiting slavery. By a strict interpretation, however, slavery was outlawed only on Dec. 6, 1865, when the 13th amendment went into effect and was Ratified by New Hampshire July 1, 1865.)
Vermont 1777 (The newly formed state, which broke away from New York, abolished slavery outright in its constitution, dated July 8, 1777.) (http://www.slavenorth.com/emancipation.htm)
The Effects of Emancipation
Whenever Freedom came it was overdue and much welcomed but not well prepared for by the government or even the many Abolitionist Movements. It created nearly 4 million homeless and uneducated people in a hostile climate marching the roads of the South seeking lost loved ones, land and a better future.
They ceased to be chattel. They were no longer African slaves. They became African Americans. And they kept marching right on thru Jim Crow and the KKK, until they were at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial listening to Dr. King saying,
"Free At Last, Free At Last, Thank God Almighty, I Am Free At Last!"
This Juneteenth retell the story of how freedom came and of those ancestors who lived to see it. Remember your cousins throughout the Diaspora - especially those still enslaved, and spread the love of freedom to the world.
This article may be printed and freely shared for nonprofit purposes, as long as this notice and citation appear with the article:
This article was prepared for The USF Africana Heritage Project (www.africanaheritage.com) by Joyce Reese McCollum. Citation:
McCollum, Joyce Reese
2005 "Juneteenth and Emancipation Day Celebrations." The USF Africana Heritage Project, http://www.africanaheritage.com
Suggestions for Further Reading
Juneteenth World Wide Celebration
The official site of Juneteenth Worldwide: history of the holiday, registry of organizations and commemoration events in the US and internationally, ideas on how to celebrate
Handbook of Texas Online - JUNETEENTH
From the home and heartland of the holiday
Read more about Juneteenth at Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia
Read about Juneteenth at Info Please
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