If the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) still actively exists, their members must be exuberant about passage of Senate Bill 475, the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act,” approved 415-14 by the House of Representatives after unanimous consent in the Senate.
Juneteenth (June 19) is old news. Congress has voted annually to recognize the day when slaves in Galveston, Texas, finally learned in 1865 about the Emancipation Proclamation, more than two years after it was issued by President Abraham Lincoln.
However, this decision to create a federal holiday is an elevation not allowed since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was approved in 1983. Juneteenth suddenly has major significance, besides being yet another day off for federal employees, whether listless or not.
Juneteenth has been celebrated in the South for about 150 years, primarily by Blacks, because – until recent decades – the KKK and many other White Southerners were less than happy with the Confederacy losing the Civil War or any suggestions of racial equality.
Juneteenth was tolerated, even encouraged by racists. In our modern era it is trumpeted as the great day that slavery ended.
The facts contradict the praise and description.
- The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves who resided in states that had seceded from the Union, not the bordering slave states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, where slavery was allowed to continue until late in 1865.
- The only path to gain freedom was for Blacks to somehow escape the Confederate states and enter territory held by the Union Army.
- If the Proclamation was so important, why don’t we celebrate the date of September 22, when Lincoln issued it in 1863?
While Lincoln may have been somewhat pro abolition, why did he exclude the slaves in four states from gaining freedom? Some historians contend that if he had emancipated all slaves, the border states might have joined the Confederacy.
A better answer is that Lincoln wanted a slave rebellion in the Confederacy, and subsequent hordes of possible recruits coming north to join the Union army. The Proclamation includes:
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.
Was the Proclamation just a recruiting plan for a Union Army that had suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties, rather than a humanitarian act?
With all these questions about Lincoln’s motives, celebrating even the proclamation’s enactment on Sept. 22 is suspect, let alone when a remote settlement in Texas learned about it.
Let’s get back to the KKK.
Racists did not prevent Juneteenth (also known as Jubilee Day) to be celebrated. To them it may have appeared as a dumb holiday – insinuating Blacks were out of touch, not part of the greater community, isolated, ignorant of news and lacking media, even word of mouth.
However, racists very much preferred Juneteenth to the alternative: December 6, 1865, when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.
Racists didn’t want the real end of slavery commemorated, and the Amendment has never received the recognition deserved:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
These words authorized the greatest change created by the Civil War. No wonder, the KKK and its admirers never wanted it celebrated.
A Congress with integrity – and real respect for Americans of all races – would drop Juneteenth as a federal holiday, and replace it with Black Freedom Day or End of Slavery Day on December 6.
Either of those tributes would mark the actual end of slavery, and honor the 362,000 Union Army soldiers who died in the Civil War.