On June 19, 1862, Congress outlawed chattel slavery in all territories of the U.S. (not yet states). On that same day, three years later, June 19, 1865, Union troops that just arrived the day before in Galveston, Texas, announced they were there to enforce the emancipation of the last slaves held by the confederacy stating, “. . . all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves . . .”
The immediate celebrations that were repeated each following year became known as Juneteenth Freedom or Emancipation Day.
The Great Migration brought on by increased lynchings and the mechanization of agricultural work, forced African Americans out of the fields into the urban industrial workforce, spreading Juneteenth to other parts of the country and other parts of the working class. After the 1968 Poor Peoples March on Washington, Juneteenth spread to Minnesota, Milwaukee, WI and eventually to 45 of the 50 United States gaining status as an official state holiday in many.
Part of the tradition of Juneteenth that developed wasn’t just food, sports and cultural activities, but speeches and stories by elders assessing how far we advanced from slavery as well as the struggles that lay ahead.
After 154 years of constant resistance to Jim Crow, old and new, African-Americans still find equality as elusive as ever. Black unemployment is more than double that of whites accompanied by a widening wealth gap. Blacks are almost three times more likely to be killed by police than whites and almost six times more likely to be incarcerated.
The divisive racial rhetoric of the Trump administration, especially against Mexicans, would have us forget that in the same year, 1857, that the Dred Scott decision attempted to turn all Americans into slave catchers; it was Mexico that passed a law granting freedom to any slave that made it across their border from the U.S. Trump’s MAGA banner is correctly interpreted as a dog whistle meant to bring us back to the days of slave and master.
The slave masters of old have been replaced by the corporations. As we celebrate Juneteenth 2019, let us contemplate what will be required to rid ourselves of corporate masters and build a New World where slavery, exploitation and oppression are a thing of the past.