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Today marks the 155th anniversary of the day that Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army reached Galveston, Texas, and offered a warm message of heartfelt congratulations and brotherhood to the formerly enslaved people there.
Just kidding. What Granger really did was announce simply that President Lincoln, who by then had been dead for two months, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation almost two and a half years earlier—but, it wasn’t particularly heartfelt or congratulatory, to my 21st century eyes. Here’s the text:
“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 becomes 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.”
I guess the first line or two aren’t that bad, but go down a bit and it’s basically: Great, you’re free. But keep working for the exact same people who insisted they literally owned you. Don’t come to the military for help.
Oh, and let’s just add a line that says if you’re prone to “idleness,” forget it; you’re on your own.
Now, to try to understand, I suppose that having just won a civil war, the order might have been threading a needle—trying to enforce freedom in fact, but not give now former slave owners and their supporters any rallying cry to pick up weapons and immediately fight again.
But, not exactly a celebration. Of course, former slaves and eventually their descendants took hold of June 19 and made it their annual celebration.
To me this text is also a reminder that ending slavery was only step one on a very long journey, one that we haven’t yet finished even today—starting there, but proceeding to race-blind citizenship, equal rights, and equal treatment and opportunity.
Worth noting is that wasn’t until later in 1865 that 13th Amendment was ratified, prohibiting slavery outright in the U.S. Constitution (as opposed to just an executive order prohibiting it in the Confederacy.)
The 14th and 15th Amendments—citizenship, equal protection, and not denying the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”— weren’t enacted until 1866 and 1880.
And these were just the pronouncements in law. Now, 140 years later, we still haven’t achieved the goals in fact.
Now, I have to admit, I barely knew anything about Juneteenth until fairly recent years — at least after the turn of the 21st century. I do think I remembered the historical part about the long time between Lincoln’s proclamation and the news reaching the former Confederacy.
But that’s just me: a white guy, late 40s, who grew up in the Northeast. I know it might be different for people in other parts of the country, and in fact, is.
Texas apparently was the first state to observe Juneteenth officially in 1980, and most other states have followed suit in some fashion. But, it’s really only in the last few years, and especially this year, that it seems recognition has been so much greater.
So that’s progress—but it’s long, unsteady progress. In this case, all throughout this story, from 1865 and before to now, it seems the opposite of what we’ve always heard is true: sometimes, good news travels slowly.
7 other things worth your time
Beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program were “over the moon” Thursday, after the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the administration from ending DACA protections. (NBC News)
A lone guy with an address at a UPS store in California created something called the Black Lives Matter Foundation, and allegedly collected $4.5 million in donations from people who might have confused it with the Black Lives Matter movement. (Buzzfeed News)
AMC Theaters says it’s reopening. It won’t require masks. “We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” said its CEO, Adam Aron. (Variety)
Facebook says it’s rolling out a feature to let users opt out of viewing political ads. (CNET)
New York is considering a 14-day quarantine for visitors for Florida, saying it has Covid-19 under much better control, in a reverse of the quarantine Florida imposed in New York visitors earlier this year. (WCBS 880)
Everyone in California must wear masks in public places where social distancing isn’t possible, according to an order from the governor Thursday. (CBS Local)
How do passengers socially distance on the most crowded U.S. commuter rail? With an app that weighs train cars and uses infrared sensors to count passengers. (CNN)
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