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The Story of Juneteenth: Myths that Evoke Pride but Require Engagement

The celebration of Juneteenth was a pivotal marker of freedom for the enslaved Blacks in 1865 and beyond.

However, the idea that the slaves were freed two years before, via the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863- the executive order of its day, and the news of freedom took that long to then be announced by General Granger in Galveston Texas were myths.

First, Texas as a Confederate state would not have honored that Executive Order from President Lincoln, who had no authority over the state at that time. Texas with the other slave states had seceded from the union and were in the throes of civil war to preserve their way of life. So, the enslaved population in the Confederate states had not gained their freedom, even if they had gotten news through the whispers that such an order was issued.

Second - the timing of two years. It was more likely that after the State of Texas surrendered to the Union Army on June 2, 1865, that event allowed General Granger to ride in on his white horse with union troops, with a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in hand on June 19, 1865.

Still, the enslaved population in Galveston at the time was about 1700 people. It required an arduous town-by-town, Confederate state-by-Confederate state effort by the Union Army to make the pronouncement of freedom, and then enforce it through the rest of the Confederate states.

Of course, the institution of slavery was not completely abolished for the rest of the nation until the 13th Amendment was ratified at the end of that year – December 6, 1865.

But the states went along with signing the document in exchange for a huge compromise: Except as a punishment for a crime.

That exception opened the door for a new set of repressive laws known as black codes. Widely enacted throughout the South following the Civil War - a period called Reconstruction- these laws both limited the rights of Black People and exploited them a labor source, shattering any remaining myths of freedom.

Derickson K Lawrence is a resident of City of Mount Vernon.

He is the executive producer of the docuseries Americas’ Open Wound: the Killing of the Movement.


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