Friday, June 19, 2009


Juneteenth + 12 squared

The Emancipation ProclamationToday is the 144th anniversary of Juneteenth. I like that, because it combines three things that matter to me: words ("Juneteenth"), mathematics (144 is 12 squared), and social justice, freedom, and equality.

That last is, of course, the point.

The Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order by Abraham Lincoln, which declared slaves in the dissident Confederate states free, went into effect on the first day of 1863. At that time, it applied to ten states, which remained under secession,[1] though it specified exemptions. Of course, since the order applied only to states that were still out of Union control, its effect was brought through with the advance of Union troops, and slaves were freed over time.

A major event in the abolition of slavery came two and a half years later, in 1865. On the nineteenth of June of that year, General Granger and his Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and on that day the slaves in the last holdout state were officially declared free.

Of course, not every person was actually freed on that day, and, indeed, we would fight hard for civil rights for the next century, and yet still have segregation and lynchings and refusal to allow blacks to vote, though they had that legal right. Titular freedom and equality may come with the stroke of a pen; real freedom and equality are more elusive.

But we celebrate a significant achievement today, nonetheless. The return of Texas to the Union did have real consequences for everyone, slave and free man alike. Beyond that, we celebrate the nation’s resolution to work toward freedom and equality, however long it might take.

We’re not done yet; it will still take longer. But we’ve come a great distance in the last 144 years.

By the President of the United States of America.

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and FOREVER FREE, and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

“That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.”

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 a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward SHALL BE FREE! and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence, and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President: A.Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.


[1] Interestingly, it did not free slaves in several border states that had not officially seceded, and, thus, were not covered by the executive order. They kind of skipped that bit when they taught us about it in grade school. They didn’t teach us about the exemptions, either.


Sue VanHattum said...

Barry, Thanks for posting this. There's a great song about Juneteenth you might enjoy, by Laura Love. It's called Saskatchewan. Here's a listen.

Barry Leiba said...

Thanks for the link, Sue. Unfortunately, it looks like StumbleAudio only works on Windows. I tried it on Mac OS X on Firefox, Safari, and Opera, and they all just give me a big blank black area where the media player is supposed to be.

ari freiser said...

Works fine for me on my Mac (OS 10.4.11) in Firefox (3.0.19).

It's been so long, I don't remember what I had to do to set it to working -- you may have to create an account there of some kind, but it is possible to do so (at least as a "guest" or "trial" or some such) without having to pay $ upfront.

Alternatively, you can try Rhapsody, which will let you have a free trial if you don't feel like paying or committing to anything.

Laura Love is a fascinating performer, with one of her (several, highly eclectic) specialties being what she terms "AfroCeltic" music, especially on her albums "NeGrass" (get it?), the one with the Juneteenth song, "Saskatchewan," and "Shum Ticky." The title track on that album and her song "Aha Me a Riddle I Day" had me convinced on first hearing that they were Appalachian gems that Lomax had somehow missed, instead of her own.

She's a national treasure -- way underheard and underappreciated.