Juneteenth: A nice middle finger to the Confederacy

Texas Juneteenth Day Celebration, 1900, courtesy of the Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

My memory is terrible. But, to my recollection, I never learned about Juneteenth in my formal education, meaning kindergarten through the 12th grade, and even at the college level, nothing. I’m not even sure when I first learned about Juneteenth, but it wasn’t in formal education. That’s frustrating. Why wasn’t it taught?

As Trevor Burrus, a researcher with the think tank the Cato Institute, said on Twitter, slavery stained the founding principles of the United States, so ending slavery was “as important as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.”

“We fought a Civil War to stop that horrible institution,” he said.

And sure, while the Emancipation Proclamation is, of course, taught, as well as the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, it’s odd that Juneteenth never warranted a mention.

If you’re not familiar, courtesy of PBS, Juneteenth recognizes the end of slavery in the United States, when the last holdouts in Texas were given notice by the Union Army that the enslaved people were free. Even though President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 outlawed slavery, it took the Union Army’s advancements to enforce the Proclamation, and the first celebrations occurred on June 19, 1866.⁣

That seems like critical information! I think a lot of kids grow up thinking the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery. It did not. It would take a number of years to formally end slavery, and then, obviously, another century thereafter to extinguish its lingering remnants in the form of Black Codes, Jim Crow and so forth.

I don’t know how anyone can read about that period leading up to the Civil War and the Civil War therein and not be infuriated at the Confederacy. That there are still Confederacy apologists is maddening to me. They seceded from the United States to form an empire built on slavery and the U.S. endured more than 600,000 deaths in still the bloodiest war in American history to counter it. There is absolutely zero positive regard to be had for the Confederacy.

That the leaders and proponents of secession, such as Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and others are still held in high esteem in certain parts of the country make me sick. That South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi still formally recognize Confederate Memorial Day on June 3 (and Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Tennessee commemorate it) makes me sick.

I’m glad that Juneteenth has been formally recognized as a federal holiday this year. We absolutely should celebrate the end of the awful institution of slavery, which still stains us to this day, and by that, I mean the ways in which the structural racism built then and enforced thereafter, informs our structures today.

So, yeah, Juneteenth is a beautiful, celebratory middle finger to the Confederacy and a huge holler for liberation and freedom.

We should always celebrate liberation and freedom.

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