Juneteenth: A celebration of freedom

June 19, or Emancipation Day, marks the day slaves in Galveston, Texas first learned the government had granted them freedom.

SAN JOSE, June 19, 2012 - When many first hear of the holiday, Juneteenth, they often think there is a mistake with the wording and they become not only curious about the holiday but also about the word depicting the holiday.

The name of Juneteenth is what is known as a portmanteau or a combination of two or more words comprising an entirely new word with a blended meaning of the words involved. A simple example would be the word smog which was created by joining smoke and fog. Juneteenth is the portmanteau of June and nineteenth; a single word which signifies a special day in the history if the United States. 

The holiday of Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day and it commemorates the day of June 19, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, first learned the American Civil War was over and they had received their long awaited liberation. It was a day of celebration, with singing, dancing, and feasting.

It is quite difficult to imagine how hard it may have been for the people who had been in bondage for their entire lives, but on this day, all of that suffering became history as people who were once owned as property were told they were free by the U.S. Army’s General Order number 3.

But even the reading of this decree, essentially the fulfillment of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, had to be backed up by 2,000 federal troops. The U.S. Army needed to enforce such an order by taking over the state of Texas to ensure compliance with the federal because the staunch confederates there were resistant to emancipation.  

As could be anticipated, the majority of former Confederates after the war were quite resistant to such radical change in their lifestyle and social status. Even the former slaves had to deal with such a radical change. But the change was a forced change; a change that was the outcome of one of the most destructive wars that the United States was involved in. The cost of such freedom for a people was extraordinarily high. More American men and boys died in the War Between Brothers than any other war in the nation’s history.

Freedom was certainly the issue, and despite the volumes of scholarly explanations on economic disparity and states rights, the real issue of the Civil War, the one which the Confederates were fighting for and willing to die for, was their “liberty” to own human beings as private property much like cattle. It became politicized and ultimately justified as the sovereignty of states to be free from federal law that would abolish slavery. Mr. Lincoln and the Union were fighting for the freedom for all men and for the very survival of a government that could ensure the eventual freedom for all.

Such freedom came to the former slaves in Texas on June 19th. Although equality was a long way off, freedom was so precious that the blacks began to sing and dance, and in reality, they began to sing and dance in a way they had never been able to dance previous to that moment in time. For those who have never truly known complete bondage or real enslavement, it is hard to comprehend the feelings of those who had just been served notice that they were finally free. They must have been overwhelmed with emotions and one the one hand, the concept may have been unbelievable, while on the other hand, such uncontrollable joy may have swept over those who had been liberated.

This genuine and original expression of joy and jubilation suspended the skeptic’s disbelief and left on hold the practical considerations of working out the legal fine points and the logistical implications.  The freshness of freedom demanded immediate response. The blacks in Galveston did not need a political discourse to instruct them on the significance of that moment in history as they sang with joy. They did not need a history lesson to instruct them on the fundamental change that had just occurred in the United States of America.

For Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day, or Freedom Day in the nation’s history, it should be a genuine celebration from sea to shining sea because not only did an entire portion of the U.S. population receive their freedom, America also became just a bit better and just a bit closer to the dream of many of the founding fathers. For Lincoln, it was about living up to that dream – that all men were endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit if Happiness. For Lincoln, the U.S. was either the Land of the Free or it wasn’t and the civil War was fought to prove that we still could be.  

Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day, or Freedom Day is a day in which all Americans should celebrate their freedom. It is a day in which Americans can reflect on the nation’s   true meaning once again: That this nation is dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal, and that this nation under divinely inspired leadership, would still provide the foundation and opportunity for people to secure their fundamental, God-given rights.


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Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member  at West Valley College in California.  He also currently writes a column on history and one on American freedom for the Communities at the Washington Times.

 

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