I first became aware of Juneteenth when I was working at a TV station in Florida. As a normal part of my duties, I would handle incoming request for advertising on the station and one day, a call was directed to me from a young man who said he wanted to advertise his Juneteenth celebration. I had not heard of this event but asked him to meet to discuss as was customary to our sales process. A face-to-face meeting was always preferable to conducting business over the phone, and so I was pleased when he agreed to meet in person. Then he told me where; a McDonalds, where he worked.
So, I went to the McDonalds as directed and met with a slender and pleasant young black man, and he outlined what Juneteenth was, and he said he was holding a ½ day celebration in a public park. As it turned out, he had very little money for advertising and what he really wanted was free publicity and he (incorrectly) assumed that advertisers got coverage in the news. I gave him some good tips on how to get free PR for his event, we shook hands, and I left.
I did not hear of Juneteenth again for several years, and now, in the compressed timeframe of a few months, the event has been elevated to the level of a federal holiday.
It is often stated that the holiday celebrates the end of slavery and that is true in the general sense, but the end of slavery was a complex affair that began with the Emancipation Proclamation which was an executive order from President Abraham Lincoln. The executive order took effect in 1863 but given that the nation was in a state of Civil War, and the rebellious southern states did not recognize the authority of any part of the US government, it wasn’t until the surrender of the Confederacy in 1865 that the Emancipation Proclamation could be implemented. Juneteenth celebrates General Order #3 which was an order meant to convey the Emancipation Proclamation to the enslaved people of Texas. It was issued by a Union general named Gordan Granger on June 19, 1865, and so that is how the date was decided.
Neither the Emancipation Proclamation nor General Order #3 wrote the end of slavery in the United States. It took war, and over 600,000 lives to settle the issue and the results were culminated in the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution.
The 13th Amendment reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The 14th Amendment reads: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The 15th Amendment reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Many days could be chosen to represent the end of slavery, including July 4, 1776 which is when the colonial states declared their slavery to the British Crown was going to end. That set the clock to end chattel slavery in the United States. Once the idea of ‘all men are created equal’ was floated out there, there would be many takers and all bluffs would be called. They are still being called. There are always slaveries out there and human trafficking, the scourge of our time, is a form of slavery. But, we’ve set on June 19 as the official celebration of the end of slavery and that date is as good as any. The end of the economic institution of slavery was thousands of years in the making and it’s gone in the United States. A Happy Juneteenth to all!