About Juneteenth: Slavery Didn’t Exactly End…

Emancipation Day celebration, June 19, 1900 held in “East Woods” on East 24th Street in Austin. Credit: Austin History Center. From the Smithsonian media kit.

The state of Texas is big and so is it’s influence, but what do we really know about Juneteenth and the end of slavery?

Juneteenth commemorates the day that federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control according to the government website. President Joe Biden signed Juneteenth into law, making the first federal holiday approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has a complete page on Juneteenth.

As a Californian, I know that slavery of people of African descent was banned under Mexico and after the Mexican-American War, when much of the Southwest became US territories and eventually states, there were decisions to be made. California decided to keep the ban on slavery of African people and their descendants. Texas re-imposed slavery and that was a major factor in the decision of Texas to fight against Mexican authorities. The Alamo was a pro-slave group it seems, so they weren’t fighting for freedom, at least not for the freedom of the non-White peoples.

NPR noted there are myths associated with Juneteenth:

I don’t know if it is appropriate to tell people how they should “appropriately commemorate” a day. That seems a bit pretentious. Criticizing Walmart for acknowledging the day with a special Juneteenth-flavored ice cream seems counter productive. “You wouldn’t do that with other important American milestones, and I think even then there’s a level of care that needs to go into that. Because the reality is, while Juneteenth is being commodified, Black Americans and Black folks in America are still struggling.”

And yet, NPR also gives you drinks and foods for Juneteenth from a native of Athens, Georgia.  The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture also has a cookbook with a sample recipe on its Juneteenth page. .

And don’t forget that in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War which liberated Texas and California (among other territories) to become part of the USA,  there was domestic terrorism against Latinos. That’s an important point.

Further, slavery didn’t end with Juneteenth and in some cases, slave owners fled to places like Cuba and Brazil with their slaves.

Slavery of Black people had many forms and the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t effect the states loyal to the Union. The Emancipation Proclamation affected ten states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina). It did not affect the Union slaves states of Maryland, Delaware, Missouri and Kentucky. Tennessee is also not named. In those states, slavery ended with the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

Even with slavery ended, a new kind of slavery emerged: chain gangs and sharecropping.

According to an article in the Washington Post,

The sharecropping system and laws prohibiting Black people from hunting and fishing also prevented Black people from feeding themselves and required them to work for White people.

Also, there is the Native American question that is two part. One is that slavery had existed among Native Americans predating the European invasion and Native Americans held slaves of African descent.

The second is that Native Americans were also enslaved past the American Civil War and even past the ratification of the 13th Amendment (31 January 1865). If one wants to talk about “slavery by another name,” that doesn’t just apply to the South and African Americans.

Andrés Reséndez, a historian at the University of California Davis, and the author of “The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America,” explained why he called Native American slavery “other slavery.”

Because unlike African slavery, which was legal for centuries and sanctioned by states and empires around the world, Indian slavery was very early on made illegal. Even eight years after Columbus first set foot in the New World, there were questions about the legality of the enslavement of Indians. And as early as 1542, the Spanish crown outlawed Indian slavery under all circumstances. However, because Native American labor had been essential to all of the economic activities going on during this first generation of colonialism, it was unthinkable for the European colonists to do without native slaves.

And so they very quickly devised all kinds of subterfuges and euphemisms in order to continue to profit from the coerced labor of natives by calling it different names. So I call it other slavery in the sense that not only that it targeted Native Americans as opposed to Africans but also in the sense that it encompassed a multiplicity of institutions or labor practices that we really need to put together and understand together if we want to gain a sense of the scope of this other slavery, as I call it.

This isn’t so different from the term of slavery being used for Southern chain gangs and sharecropping, but he also notes:

We really don’t know when slavery began in the New World – probably from the very beginning of the occupation of the continent. What we do know is that there is plenty of archaeological and pictorial evidence, as well as some of the early chronicles of the New World depict the enslavement of natives prior to the arrival of Europeans. In the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, Iroquois peoples waged wars on neighboring groups for the purpose of avenging their dead and replacing them with captives. In the Pacific Northwest, elite marriages were often sealed by providing slaves. So we know that these activities went on.

Kevin Waite, an assistant history professor at Durham University in the UK wrote in this essay for “The Atlantic” (25 November 2021):

The institution of peonage survived numerous antislavery assaults—right through the so-called age of emancipation. The Thirteenth Amendment brought freedom to African Americans in the South, but not to Indigenous people in large parts of the West. Two years after the Civil War, Indian captives and peons could still be found in an estimated 10 percent of all New Mexican households; Native people in the state continued to work against their will for decades to come. A Navajo captive named Deluvina, for example, served Lucien Maxwell’s family into the 1930s.

At this point, California doesn’t recognize Juneteenth as a paid state holiday, but there is a bill to make it such.

California does recognize Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, but that also is not a paid state holiday. That day is recognized in perpetuity in five states (California, Hawaii, Virginia, Florida, Arizona) and one city (New York) and recognized by proclamation in six more states (Utah, Illinois, Georgia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan).

Yet Juneteenth is a Southern tradition and if we are to follow the guidelines provided by NPR’s articles, those traditions allow California to ignore how California was built. California’s legacy of slavery is long, and tied to the history of slavery in colonial Mexico.

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