Class Notes

Tomorrow marks a holiday that this year has taken on new meaning and I have been asked by a reader to clear up a misconception.  Juneteenth celebrates the day when slaves in Texas, June 19th, 1865, heard about emancipation and the end of the Civil War.  Most sources talk about how Texas was too far away to hear about the Emancipation Proclamation given two years earlier, so they were the last to benefit from it.  While this is all true, it is also misleading.  Lincoln’s 1862 Proclamation, which took effect on Jan 1, 1863, really did not free any slaves.  The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in rebel states, not slaves who lived in loyal states like Kentucky or Missouri.  It also did not really free slaves in the Confederacy because those states did not recognize Lincoln’s authority. So, a slave in South Carolina may have heard of the Proclamation in 1862, but was no freer than a slave in Texas.

One thing the Proclamation did allow was for slaves to run away to the Union lines and be considered free, whereas before January 1863 the official policy was to return them to their owners.  So, either way, slaves in Texas or South Carolina both benefited from the Emancipation Proclamation after 1863 if they ran away.  The difference would have been that the slave in South Carolina would have known why.

I know this explanation is all technical and all history nerdy.  In reality, it is too bad it has taken this long to make Juneteenth an important recognized holiday.  No matter the technical aspect, it is a day where we can recognize the end of slavery and that evil chapter in our history.  On July 4th we celebrate the document that claims that all men are created equal.  Now on June 19th, we can celebrate the day that this statement became more of a reality.

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