Emancipation Day Celebration, Texas, 1900. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
The story of Juneteenth is that slaves in Texas finally learned they were free over two years after the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation, yet there is historical dissonance in this narrative. One D.C. historian is attempting to reveal the truth.
Hari Jones, assistant director and curator at the African American Civil War Museum, has spent 10 years trying to bring awareness to the true story and details leading up to June 19, 1865, famously known as Juneteenth.
Juneteenth has often been celebrated as the day the slaves in Galveston, Texas were notified of their freedom by Major General Gordon Granger. However, Jones said, that version of the story is a result of an “orchestrated propaganda campaign,” to show the slaves being saved by a White man.
Jones told a very detailed account of the dates surrounding, Juneteenth, that paint the more than 10,000 African-American soldiers in the Union Army present in Galveston as the heroes in the story, because they enforced the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation. “We’re celebrating the completion of a military campaign and enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation,” Jones said.
Jones said, “ early morning of June 15, their very presence, I will say, chased the governor of Texas and four to 10 thousand rebel soldiers out of the United States, across the rail ground, into Mexico.”
Once the governor of Texas fled to Mexico, Texans celebrated with the first Juneteenth Ball, on June 19, 1865 in Lubbock, Texas. They were celebrating a military victory, and for that reason, Jones argued, this is what Juneteenth is all about.
Jones celebrates the entire week, from the 15 – 19, as a celebration of African American success, as the soldiers of the XXV Corps were able to pressure the governor and rebels to agree to the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Jones said he believes it is unjust to celebrate Juneteenth as the freeing of the slaves, a story he said was perpetuated by the Democratic party to mask the truth about the heroism of African Americans, because that is a celebration of victims, not victors.
In a society where African Americans are being persecuted in their own communities, Jones said he believes that it is important people understand the true meaning of Juneteenth, as a boost of self-esteem for the race, especially as a lesson of empowerment for youth.
Jones said many of the issues between police and the African-American community is institutionalized as a result of slavery and the Civil War. Pointing out the irony, Jones said that the British constabulary in 1708 dictated that the duty of officers was to protect the freemen, while the United States, although a British colony, based their police system off of the slave control system in South Carolina. The policeman’s responsibility was “keeping Negroes in slavery, keeping them on the plantations, keeping them in the urban areas they were supposed to be,” he said.
“So our Metropolitan police in this country is based not on the tradition of maintaining the peace among freemen, but on a tradition of keeping African Americans in their proper place,” Jones said.
He said, “This is a structural problem that we must address. We need to understand our history and tell it accurately so that we can address real problems.”
Jones said African Americans must know the real truth of the foundations of this country in order to make a change to institutionalized problems. He said it perpetuates a lie and the issues if we continue to misdiagnose the country, such as labeling Juneteenth as a celebration of the day a White American freed slaves, as opposed to a victory of African soldiers enforcing the just treatment of their people.
Jones said the difference in using the term “slaves” versus “captives,” is an instance of semantics that has done a disservice to all Americans, not only those of African descent.
For more information on the history of Juneteenth, Jones will post reputable sources from the Library of Congress on his website, harijones.com, on June 19.