Juneteenth is mis-guided!!
By Kwasi Imhotep, 2013
“And with this knowledge we can change the world, if first we change ourselves.”
— Dr. John Henrik Clarke
First off, let me say that I applaud the zeal and dedication of those who organize juneteenth celebrations around the country. It is a commendable effort to educate our people about this aspect of our history in America. Having said, and at the risk of receiving universal condemnation from the Afrikan community, I humbly declare that these juneteenth celebrations are mis-guided and are based on false historical premises!
Juneteenth is a holiday in the state of Texas in recognition of the receipt by enslaved Afrikans who were the last to receive word on June 19, 1865, that they were allegedly freed via President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation signed January 1, 1863. There were approximately4 million enslaved Afrikans in America at the time. Since that time, Afrikans in Texas have allegedly celebrated Juneteenth, and it is now becoming a national celebration. However, this is a false celebration since there were still “approximately four million slaves (Afrikan Captives) in America” on January 2, 1864, one full year after Lincoln’s proclamation, according to courageous author and historian, Lerone Bennett, Jr., “Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream.”
So, what’s the problem? The Emancipation Proclamation did not free any enslaved Afrikans in Texas or any other place! First, it was only a “Proclamation” which Black’s Law Dictionary defines as “an official announcement, usually by a government entity.” Being, so, it was not a law, and did not have the force and effect of law. Further, it wasn’t designed to free anyone. It was a political statement that did not have teeth, it was legally unenforceable, and even conciliatory to the enslavers. Why is this? Because, Lincoln never intended to free the Captured Afrikans.
In a letter to Horace Greeley, Editor of the New York Tribune of Aug. 22, 1862, Lincoln responded to Greeley’s criticism that his administration lacked direction and resolve, by stating,
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it.”
Now here is a man wrestling with a political dilemma, a raging war, political dissension in his stronghold in the North, and in the South, he’s trying to find a way to placate the Confederacy amid the need to do something about the enslaved Afrikans (the so-called ‘negro’ problem).
So after much deliberation, he issues the infamous Emancipation Proclamation as a political problem-solver. The problem however, with this document from an Afrikan perspective, is that it didn’t free any enslaved Afrikans. Why? Let’s read from the document,
“Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States…order and designate as the states and parts of states wherein the people thereof, respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, , Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terre Bonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said States and parts of States are, and hence forward shall be free.”
A lofty statement, but it had no power simply because the states cited therein, including Texas, had seceded from the Union, and therefore Lincoln, lacking legal jurisdiction over them, had no authority to order them to do anything!! It’s a situation analogous to you or me ordering freedom for all the brothers and sisters locked up in the prisons and jails of this country. It won’t work; neither did his proclamation. These states, “in rebellion against the United States” had formed their own separate government known as the Confederate States of America. They had their own President, their own Constitution, their own congress and Capital (Richmond, VA), their own Army, Navy, currency, flag, their own national anthem, and importantly, they controlled millions of acres of land in the states of the Confederacy!
And even more indicative of Lincoln’s political games to placate the southern enslavers, in places such as, locally, Norfolk and Portsmouth, VA, where the Union did have political control, Lincoln exempted those cities from the effects of his proclamation, and he totally ignored enslaved border states such as Maryland!! Thus, in areas of the country where he had political authority and could have freed our Ancestors, he chose not to do so!
Lincoln’s own Secretary of State, William Seward, who referred to the proclamation as a hollow, meaningless document that showed no more than, “our sympathy with the slaves by emancipating the slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.” (Bennett, ibid). This is your ‘Great Emancipator’ as you were taught in school!
In my area, some Black individuals/groups have organized Juneteenth celebrations that include Confederate Civil War re-enactments! This is a travesty and an insult to our Ancestors and to ourselves. To give the sons and daughters of the southern enslavers the chance to gloat about their ancestors efforts to keep our Ancestors enslaved, and to proudly fly and sell copies of their Confederate Battle flag is sickening!! When we participate in the demeaning and disparagement of our own history, no people will respect us, because we don’t respect ourselves. You don’t find the so-called Jews giving equal air time to Nazis and Hitler, nor Americans recognizing the British on the Fourth of July. What’s wrong with us?
So, getting word of this so-called ’emancipation’ document in Texas 2+ years later may have been a cause for celebration then because our Ancestors did not have the opportunity to actually read this document. But, celebrate or not, it still did not free them since they were in states that had previously left the Union and did not legally recognize Lincoln as their President.
However, since the Union was seemingly beginning to lose the war since it did not have a significant military victory in over eight months, Lincoln shrewdly inserted language in the Proclamation to allow our Ancestors to join the Union Armed Forces and thereby, they could fight for their own freedom!! This additional Black manpower caused a monumental change in the North’s military fortunes, and has been seen to be a deciding factor in the North’s ultimate victory, especially at bloody battlegrounds such as Ft. Pillow, Ft. Wagner, Appomattox, and others!!
At Ft. Wagner, in South Carolina, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the first Black regiments in the war. The bravery of the 54th regiment showed the North that Blacks had the capability to fight a war. William Carney, a Black sergeant with the 54th, is considered the first Black recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
At the Battle of Ft. Pillow, along the Mississippi River in Tennessee, in April 1864, the 262 Black soldiers of the US Colored Troops along with 295 white Union troops took a stand to defend Ft. Pillow from Confederate assault. This battle has been classified in history as a “massacre of Black troops” by the Rebels who outnumbered the Union soldiers by 5 to 1. Yet it shows the heroism of the Black troops who did not cut and run or surrender as they fought the Confederates for freedom.
The 25th Corps was another entirely Black unit in the Union Army who are credited with the fall of the CSA capital city of Richmond in December 1864.
These are just a few of many historically verified examples of our Ancestors taking up arms to literally fight for their own freedom from enslavement in America!
And with the military defeat of the South, came the liberation of our Ancestors. This prodigious contribution of our Ancestors to their own liberation should be the focus of Juneteenth: the fact that our Ancestors took up arms and fought to liberate themselves!! Further, it was not until the passage by Congress of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on January 31, 1865, and it’s ratification by the states on December 6, 1865, almost 3 full years AFTER Lincoln had supposedly freed the enslaved Afrikans with his proclamation, that the enslavement of our ancestors was legally abolished.
But there is a trap door, a double-edged sword, in this amendment that has ultimately continued legal slavery for people of Afrikan descent. Here is the language of the 13th Amendment—
“Amendment 13 – Slavery Abolished. Ratified 12/6/1865.
1. 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.
2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
By virtue of the 13th Amendment, slavery is still legal in America as “a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Now who are the majority of the prisoners in the jails of America? Black and Hispanic citizens, many of whom have been jailed for totally non-violent crimes, or jailed on trumped up disparities in the sentencing guidelines, while many white people in similar situations are more likely to be released, given leniency, or not arrested at all. So the net effect of this so-called “Abolishment of Slavery” amendment is that for us, it merely shifts the circumstances of our continued enslavement!
The next time that you see a prison road gang working along side of a highway for pennies an hour, take a good look at them and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into the prison-industrial complex, but you should be aware that under prison privatization laws, these Black and Hispanic 13th Amendment slaves are forced to work for private companies for “almost slave-level wages” and that private prison stock is now traded on Wall St., and that some judges and/or their families own such stock whose value is based in part on these same judges filling up the jails, mostly with Black and Hispanic 13th Amendment slaves!
Now let’s shift gears to a related, but little known aspect of our Ancestors liberation from enslavement in America. Almost 20 years after the passage of the 13th Amendment, in 1884, French Sculptor, Frederic Bartholdi presented a gift to America of his monumental statue “Lady Liberty” or the Statue of Liberty. However, the statue that now stands in New York Harbor is not the original statue that Bartholdi crafted.
Bartholdi, who was an abolitionist sympathizer, had sculpted a different one. As you can see, this original statue has a chain in her left hand, and the remnant of the broken chains at her feet. The broken chains were meant to symbolize the victory our Ancestors gained in battle in the Civil War over the oppressive chains of their enslavement. Bartholdi’s original model was intended to honor our Ancestors gallant efforts to free themselves from enslavement, not to signify America’s independence from Britain in 1776, over 100 years earlier! There would not be a Statue of Liberty standing today if not for the liberation of our Ancestors from enslavement in 1865!! Let that sink in.
The original Statue of Liberty was carved to commemorate our Ancestors freedom from enslavement in America, period! It was not made to recognize America’s revolt against Britain in 1776! But, that, however, is the big lie being told to millions of visitors to the statue. The original model never saw the light of day for political and racist reasons. America would never allow a statue honoring its enslaved Afrikans to grace New York harbor! Neither the South nor the North would stand for it. And, of course, Lincoln wasn’t too thrilled at the attainment of freedom for our Ancestors. In fact, Lincoln sought ways to solve the “Negro Problem” by deporting our Ancestors BACK to Afrika without compensation or meaningful assistance!!
If the French could seek to honor our Ancestors victory over enslavement, why can’t we? We need to remember to honor our own positive actions, not the dubious actions of some president that were done for his own political salvation. To base the Juneteenth celebration on a document that had no power and to ignore our Ancestors own efforts for freedom is, as I have said, mis-guided, at the very least. Why are we so quick to recognize others and hesitant to recognize self?