Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Freeing of the Slaves

My parents were missionaries in Africa in the early years of their lives together, and they learned many lessons about race relations from that experience.

Mom is deceased now, but Dad is still alive and he has maintained a sense of humor about some of the more ludicrous aspects of racism in America. He doesn't think that racism itself is funny — he has never said so to me, but I suspect that he feels 21st century racism threatens to undermine Barack Obama's presidency — but he makes jokes about things like the "Three–Fifths Compromise" and eating watermelon and fried chicken to celebrate "Juneteenth."

I don't know how others would react to it, but my brother and I know he's kidding.

Ah, yes, Juneteenth. More than three–fifths (there's that fraction again) of the states recognize it as a state holiday. What is Juneteenth, you may ask? Well, it is a commemoration of the day that news about the emancipation of the slaves actually reached the slaves.

I guess you could call it a tale of three months — September 1862, January 1863 and June 1865.

On this day in 1862, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order that declared that all slaves in any of the Confederate states that were not back under Union control by Jan. 1, 1863, would be free. On January 1, Lincoln issued a second executive order that listed the states where the first order would apply.

The Civil War ended more than two years later, in April 1865, and it wasn't until Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 18 and read the proclamation publicly on June 19 that the slaves were officially told that they had been freed.

As a result, June 19 became known as "Juneteenth."

Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations have been held regularly.

And it all really began 147 years ago today, with an executive order that most blacks in America heard nothing about at the time.

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