Juneteenth and History

I’m ashamed I didn’t mention this yesterday, but Jamelle Bouie had an excellent explanatory post in Slate on “The Black American Holiday Everyone Should Celebrate“:

… News of emancipation would move slowly, which would be compounded by the mass migration of slave owners, who fled their holdings in Louisiana and Mississippi—slaves in tow—following the Union victories at New Orleans in 1862 and Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1863. Tens of thousands of slaves arrived in Texas, joining the hundreds of thousands in the interior of the state, where they were isolated from most fighting and any news of the war.

As such, for the next two years, slaves and slave holders lived at a far remove from the events of the eastern United States, including the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in April 1865. Yes, it ended the war, but it didn’t end the conflict, as fighting continued on the far borders of the Confederacy. And so, when Gen. Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, on June 19 to lead the Union occupation force, he wasn’t just faced with Confederate remnants (the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, for example, had surrendered only a month prior); he had to deal with ongoing slavery in defiance of the Emancipation Proclamation.

To fix the situation, he issued an order

The Atlantic‘s David A. Graham has a rather wonderful story about Dallas County officials’ accidental “celebration” of Juneteenth this year (yes, as inspired by Ta-nehisi Coates):

The Dallas County Commissioners Court was voting on an item labeled in their agenda as the “Juneteenth Resolution,” referring to the annual commemoration of June 19, 1865, arrival of U.S. troops in Texas to free slaves after the Civil War. John Wiley Price, the only black member of the commission and evidently something of a character, submitted the resolution, which for some reason wasn’t sent around to commissioners ahead of time, nor was it posted on the commission website. Instead, Price read it aloud as his colleagues ignored him, perhaps playing tic-tac-toe or checking Twitter. Then the resolution came up for a voice vote and passed unanimously. (You can watch it here, starting around the 20-minute mark.)

It isn’t as if Price didn’t loudly declaim the resolution. Here’s the crucial closing:

Therefore, be it resolved in the Dallas County Commissioners Court that Juneteenth and its historical mimicking of freedom is just that, and that the United States of America is derelict in its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to the African-American people. Be it further resolved that the dereliction that has caused 400 years of significant [inaudible] to millions and significant suffering to the descendants of those who have been enslaved Africans who built this country, should be satisfied with monetary and substantial reparations to same.

Graham adds, “Since the resolution is nonbinding, don’t expect Dallas to start calculating formulas and cutting checks any time soon.” But still!

Jamelle Bouie, again:

Thursday marks the 148th anniversary of the first Juneteenth. For now, it’s a niche holiday, celebrated by black Americans and a handful of others who know and understand the occasion. But it deserves wider reach. Indeed, I think we should add it to the calendar of official federal holidays…

Can this be done by executive order? Maybe “we” could get the paperwork done in time for the 150th anniversary…

32 replies
  1. 1
    geg6 says:

    I read about the idiot Dallas County Commissioners thing the other day and laughed and laughed and laughed. I heart John Wiley Price.

  2. 2
    Patricia Kayden says:

    I’ve never met an African American who has celebrated Juneteenth (or Kwanzaa), although I heard about it when I first came to this country to live in 1995. Fascinating history which should be better known by Americans.

  3. 3
    geg6 says:

    @Patricia Kayden:

    Kwanzaa is celebrated by quite a few around here. Juneteenth, not so much celebrated as commented upon by my AA friends and co-workers, usually via Book of Faces.

  4. 4
    max says:

    John Wiley Price, the only black member of the commission and evidently something of a character

    Yeah he is. Enough of a character that the local FBI office raided his house and confiscated a bunch of cash they found in his safe. Whereupon the local federal DA promptly forgot to locate the criminal case that went with the search and confiscation, and kind of screwed around for awhile and then decided that to tell the court that since they had the money and obviously it wasn’t in Wiley’s possession anymore that it was theirs because um don’t that seem crooked? (Ya know. Cash. In a safe at somebody’s house. Gosh, white respectable people don’t keep their money in a safe at home.) And the judge said, to a first approximation, ‘Excuse me?’ and dismissed the attempt to keep the money. Whereupon, the local DA continued to forget to locate a criminal case OR an asset forfeiture case.

    So we’re coming up on the end of the first year of ‘what’s this about John Wiley’s money anyways?’

    And then John Wiley, as usual, manages to get the DCCC to pass a resolution backing reparations and everyone remembers why they all liked cranky John Wiley in the first place. (The usual Dallas suspects recall why they hated him, of course.)

    Maybe “we” could get the paperwork done in time for the 150th anniversary…

    2016? Probably not. But I bet we might be able to get it through Congress for 151st Anniversary.

    [‘Juneteenth has always been a big deal in the black part of Dallas since ever (roughly equivalent to the 4th of July), so I’m totally in favor.’]

  5. 5
    daveNYC says:

    I’d prefer to not have any national holiday related to anything that happened in Texas. How about we just go with the date of the Emancipation Proclamation. Even though that just means doubling up on New Years.

  6. 6
    Sir Laffs-a-Lot says:

    For Betty:

  7. 7
    Origuy says:

    There’s a celebration in San Jose every year. It was held last weekend downtown in Cesar Chavez Park. I don’t think it was very well attended, though.

  8. 8
    Mike in NC says:

    @daveNYC: I’ll be happy to not have any national holidays honoring Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney, or any member of the criminal Bush family.

  9. 9
    greennotGreen says:

    Ever since I first learned about Juneteenth, I’ve been surprised it isn’t celebrated as a holiday. The move to declare it a nationally recognized holiday (not necessarily a day off from work) could be bankrolled by grill and charcoal bricquet companies because, whatever the attendant parades or celebrations, it’s a perfect time of the year to barbecue. (I’m actually serious about this. Might as well use companies’ desire for profit to our own ends.)

  10. 10
    AxelFoley says:

    OT but police are attacking artists and activists in Brazil:


    Has Greenwald made any comments on this?

  11. 11
    Jay C says:

    If the original “Juneteenth” was June 19, 1865, then yesterday was its 149th (not 148th) anniversary. And thus, its sesquicentennial will be next year, 6/19/2015.

    Not that anyone’s counting…
    I agree, it would be a good thing to make it a national holiday of some sort.

  12. 12
    shelley says:

    Just the mention of the word ‘reparations’ make TeaParty heads go Boom!

  13. 13
    Citizen_X says:

    @Patricia Kayden: It’s pretty widely celebrated in Texas.

  14. 14
    Citizen_X says:

    @Citizen_X: Er, by black Texans, not the white ones, natch.

  15. 15
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    make TeaParty heads go Boom!

    Me like. Me like a lot.

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @AxelFoley: I doubt it. Greenwald hasn’t bothered to comment on Russia’s habit of being authoritarian assholes, either.

  17. 17

    it’s sort of in the historical spirit of Juneteenth to be late in mentioning it.

  18. 18
    maurinsky says:

    The Wadsworth Atheneum has a big celebration every year for Juneteenth. I didn’t know all the story behind it, but I knew it had to do with emancipation.

  19. 19
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Patricia Kayden:

    IIRC, it’s more of a Texas/Southern thing. They’ve been trying to revive it here in Southern California — they just had the 4th annual one last weekend.

  20. 20
    Mnemosyne says:


    It actually wouldn’t bother me if Greenwald said things like, I don’t want the US ending up like Brazil or I think the US should be held to a higher standard than Russia. It’s the whole pretending that we’re already just like Brazil or Russia that bugs me.

  21. 21
    geg6 says:


    It’s the whole pretending that we’re already just like Brazil or Russia that bugs me.

    See, for me, it’s the whole pretending that the US is worse, much worse, exponentially worse than either Brazil or Russia that bugs me.

  22. 22
    big ole hound says:

    I think Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthday’s and Juneteenth would be far more fitting as national holidays for us all than the present arrangement.

  23. 23
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Patricia Kayden: A friend and I used to comment on Juneteenth, celebrate it in that we’d have coffee and/or dinner on that day. Stuff like that. (ETA: I’m from NYC, she’s from LI and we met at college. We celebrate lots of stuff together.)

  24. 24
    Roger Moore says:


    See, for me, it’s the whole pretending that the US is worse, much worse, exponentially worse than either Brazil or Russia that bugs me.

    This. I can understand not focusing on other countries that have worse records because you care more about what happens here, but there has to be some explanation of why rather than a blank denial that there’s an issue to discuss.

  25. 25

    @Roger Moore: Being anti-American burnishes your lefty cred internationally. See for example the reflexively anti-American stances of The Guardian in the UK or The Hindu in India.

    ETA: Or BJ’s BiP.

  26. 26
    ET says:

    I live in DC and they are pretty good about “celebrating” Junteenth. It is not like the Cherry Blossom Festival or the 4th of July, but there are events around the city though I don’t know how widely known/attended those events are. I do suspect that over time that any celebration/events hav been come a less formal thing – at least a little less set by an organization dedicated to it.

  27. 27
    LAC says:

    @ET: they do vary in size, but the turnout is enthusiastic.

  28. 28
    Wally Ballou says:


    Ever since I first learned about Juneteenth, I’ve been surprised it isn’t celebrated as a holiday.

    Given the history of racial politics in this country, I’m surprised you’re surprised.

  29. 29
    Plantsmantx says:

    @Patricia Kayden:
    Juneteenth parades and other events seem to be pretty well-attended here in Texas.

  30. 30
    rikyrah says:

    @Patricia Kayden:
    Juneteenth is popular in Texas.

  31. 31
    pshea40 says:

    This seems like the perfect holiday to celebrate on the last day of school

  32. 32
    Don Pratt says:

    Slavery by Another Name, book, documents the use of “law and order” to keep male African Americans as free labor to many (most?) of the same sources of previous slavery. It was also the method of paying from the “Justice” system, judges, jails and sheriffs throughout many states.

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