Why Juneteenth Matters

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Super Jumper
2020-06-20 19:11:25

Neither Abraham Lincoln nor the Republican Party freed the slaves. They helped set freedom in motion and eventually codified it into law with the 13th Amendment, but they were not themselves responsible for the end of slavery. They were not the ones who brought about its final destruction.

“Slave resistance,” as the historian Manisha Sinha points out in “The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition,” “lay at the heart of the abolition movement.”

“Prominent slave revolts marked the turn toward immediate abolition,” Sinha writes, and “fugitive slaves united all factions of the movement and led the abolitionists to justify revolutionary resistance to slavery.”

When secession turned to war, it was enslaved people who turned a narrow conflict over union into a revolutionary war for freedom. “From the first guns at Sumter, the strongest advocates of emancipation were the slaves themselves,” the historian Ira Berlin wrote in 1992. “Lacking political standing or public voice, forbidden access to the weapons of war, slaves tossed aside the grand pronouncements of Lincoln and other Union leaders that the sectional conflict was only a war for national unity and moved directly to put their own freedom — and that of their posterity — atop the national agenda.”

All of this is apropos of Juneteenth, which commemorates June 19, 1865, when Gen. Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, to lead the Union occupation force and delivered the news of the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved people in the region. This holiday, which only became a nationwide celebration (among black Americans) in the 20th century, has grown in stature over the last decade as a result of key anniversaries (2011 to 2015 was the sesquicentennial of the Civil War), trends in public opinion (the growing racial liberalism of left-leaning whites), and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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