Sunday, June 19, 2011

Should America Celebrate Juneteenth Day?

American school children have been taught that President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves on January 1, 1863. However, Lincoln’ s Emancipation Proclamation only declared free slaves in the rebel states. There were fifteen slaveholding states in January 1863. The Proclamation applied to the ten states in rebellion, the ten states that were fighting a bloody war against the Lincoln led government in Washington. Therefore, Lincoln’ s proclamation had to be enforced by the military. Slaves in the rebel states were freed when federal authority was reestablished in those rebellious states by military force, and African Americans played a major role in the military victory that resulted in their liberation. African Americans who celebrate Juneteenth Day implicitly embrace the idea that the slaves were freed on January 1, 1863, and “ without any effort of their own.” Why do these celebrants accept as truth an inaccurate description of their own ancestors as “ inert recipients of freedom”? Most of them value the importance of knowing their history. Would they continue to celebrate Juneteenth if they knew their history? And why don’t they know their history?



In a 1935 essay entitled the “ Propaganda of History” , W. E. B. Du Bois wrote that influential European American scholars falsified the history of the Civil War in order to suppress the fact that the United States government, the Union, “ had to call in the black men to save the Union, abolish slavery and established democracy.” The success of the propaganda campaign that Du Bois identified resonates today in the attempts to make Juneteenth Day (June 19) a national holiday. Over thirty states have made June 19 a state holiday, representing a major victory for the historians or rather the propagandists who deliberately falsified Civil War history to make African Americans appear to be “ inert recipients of freedom” who did nothing to free themselves.

The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) under the leadership of Ronald V. Myers aggressively seeks to make June 19 a national holiday. Announcing that Nevada had become the 39th state to establish June 19 as a state holiday, NJOF explained the significance of the Juneteenth. In this news release dated May 11, 2011, the explanation reads:

Juneteenth recognizes the day, June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to read General Order #3, announcing "all slaves are free" through the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln. It took over two and a half years for the news to reach Southwest Texas, the last geographic area in America where slavery was practiced, creating the oldest African American freedom celebration and America's second Independence Day.

Let us closely examine the veracity of this statement and show how it’ s lack of historical accuracy aligns with the propaganda or simply the lies of those who have sought to suppress the history of how Americans of African descent freed themselves while saving the Union.

NJOF states, “ It took over two and a half years for the news [of President Lincoln’ s Emancipation Proclamation] to reach Southwest Texas.” Clearly implied is that the enslaved in Southwest Texas were doing nothing to free themselves between January 1863 and June 19, 1865, and clearly advanced is the description of the Negroes in Texas as woefully ignorant of events related to the bloody national debate. NJOF’ s statement is perfectly aligned with the deliberate lie of W. E. Woodward when he wrote: “ The American Negroes are the only people in the history of the world, so far as I know, that ever became free without any effort of their own.” To state that slaves in Texas did not get the “ news” that they were free until June 19, 1865 when Granger announced “ all slaves are free” is to assert that slaves in Texas (and in all the states where the Emancipation Proclamation applied) were freed “ without any effort of their own.”

Also NJOF purports that Southwest Texas was “ the last geographic area in America where slavery was practiced” and that slavery came to an end there when Granger read his order in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. Galveston however is not in Southwest Texas. It is in Southeast Texas. The Union Army under General Nathaniel P. Banks captured Brownsville, Texas, which is in Southwest Texas, in November 1863. (See Harper’ s Weekly, November 28, 1863 at http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/brazos-santiago-texas.htm. Also see December 12, 1863 article entitled “ The Texas Campaign” at http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1863/civil-war-guerrillas.htm. See also January 16, 1864 article entitled “ Texas” at http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1864/january/texas-expedition.htm. ) Five African descent regiments took part in this Union victory that resulted the Union Army occupying the southwestern tip of Texas for the duration of the war. These regiments became a part of the Union’ s occupation force in Southwest Texas from 1863 to the end of the war in 1865. (See National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors System (NPSSS): http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/regiments.cfm “ Search Regiments” and submit query for the “ Union” 85th US Colored Troops, 87th US Colored Troops, 95th US Colored Troops, 96th US Colored Troops and 97th US Colored Troops.) Two additional regiments of US Colored Troops were added to the occupation force in 1864. (See NPSSS and submit query for 20th US Colored Troops and 62nd US Colored Troops.)

Another notable error in the NJOF press release is the proclamation that Southwest Texas was “the last geographic area in America where slavery was practiced.” Kentucky, Delaware, twelve parishes in Louisiana and seven counties in Virginia that were exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation were, in fact, “ the last geographic area[s] in America where slavery was practiced.” (See the “ Emancipation Proclamation” .) In these geographic areas slavery did not come to an end until December 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. NJOF also claims that Juneteenth is “ the oldest African American freedom celebration.” However, based on events during the Civil War, Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia (April 16, 1862) was the first African American freedom celebration, therefore, the oldest such celebration related to the Civil War. (See National Archives Records Administration “ Featured Documents” http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/dc_emancipation_act/ .)

Without an appreciation of the facts related to emancipation, Ronald Myers and his foundation continues to lobby Congress in hopes of establishing Juneteenth Day as a national holiday. The foundation’ s premise for Juneteenth is clearly false. The official explanation of the historical significance of the day is fictitious. Therefore, Myers and his foundation are attempting to legitimize false history. Unwittingly, this African American organization is suppressing the empowering story of how Americans of African descent freed themselves while saving the Union. This African American foundation enthusiastically makes it appear that African Americans “ are the only people in the history of the world… that ever became free without any effort of their own.” Myers and his foundation perpetuate the false assertions of Woodward and others who have sought to conceal the accurate story. Woodward was clearly a propagandist who lacked integrity, and Ronald Myers as president of the NJOF is unwittingly a Woodward disciple.

The truth is that African Americans played a critical role in their own liberations, and this story needs to be told and celebrated. African American soldiers were instrumental in the Union gaining a stronghold in Southwest Texas in 1863; in capturing Charleston, South Carolina, the Cradle of Secession, on February 18, 1865; in capturing Richmond, Virginia, the Capital of the Confederacy on April 3, 1865; and in driving the Confederate governor of Texas and his army out of Texas, out of the country into Mexico on June 15, 1865, four days before Granger arrived in Galveston. Without knowledge of such historical facts, thousands of conscious African Americans celebrate Juneteenth Day. Knowledge of the successful efforts of victorious African American freedom fighters in the Civil War compels us to reject the history presented by Woodward and his unwitting disciples. Conscious men such as Myers are victims of a very successful propaganda campaign and are apparently unaware of the facts. Section two of the Nevada legislation calls on educators to advance the false statement that June 19, 1865 is “ when the last slaves in the United States were emancipated.” Consequently, a lie has become law in Nevada. How has this happened in thirty-nine states when the accurate history is easily accessible? It has happened because the propaganda campaign identified by Du Bois was successful in mis-educating many conscious African Americans, and these African Americans have successfully institutionalized a lie that suppresses the accomplishments of their own ancestors.

Du Bois wrote in his 1935 essay: “ One has but to read the debates in Congress and state papers from Abraham Lincoln down to know that the decisive action which ended the Civil War was the emancipation and arming of the black slave; that, as Lincoln said: ‘ Without the military help of black freedmen, the war against the South could not have been won.’ The freedmen, far from being the inert recipients of freedom at the hands of philanthropists, furnished 200,000 soldiers in the Civil War who took part in nearly 200 battles and skirmishes, and in addition perhaps 300,000 other as effective laborers and helpers.”

The victims, the mis-educated, must be made aware of the truth. And after being exposed to the truth they should cease and desist from advancing Woodward’ s lie by celebrating Juneteenth as the day when the last enslaved people got word that someone in Washington had freed them. Certainly, informed and knowledgeable people should not celebrate the suppression of their own history. Juneteenth Day is a de facto celebration of such suppression. Americans, especially Americans of African descent, should not celebrate that which suppresses the story of how our “ new birth of freedom” was conceived. We should celebrate the story of how America’ s enslaved freed themselves by helping to save the Union. Such freedmen were heroes not spectators, and their story is currently being suppressed by the advocates of the Juneteenth national holiday.

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