Debunking The Myth About Juneteenth’s Connection With The Emancipation Proclamation

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Juneteenth Celebration, which commemorates the ending of the last vestiges of chattel slavery in the U.S. in June of 1865 is often mischaracterized as coming two and a half years after slaves had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. The misconception comes not necessarily with the former, but with the latter in that the Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863 did not free any slaves! So, to quote a line from Blues singer Benny Lattimore, “let’s straighten it out.” Here is a quote from the Emancipation Proclamation: 

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…."

Lincoln’s main objective was to “preserve the Union,” not to end slavery. He did abhor slavery, but his solution was to send freed slaves to Africa for colonization (problematic on several grounds) or to get states to gradually emancipate slaves, which he had no luck in persuading border states not in rebellion to do so, even if slave owners were compensated. 

So, Lincoln decided to issue the Emancipation Proclamation threatening to free slaves in states rebellious to the Union. Lincoln names the states impacted (Tennessee is not named) and says that the other states not in rebellion (which would include Tennessee under Union control, Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland – all slave owning states)  and exceptions such as select parishes or counties, along with a few cities like New Orleans and Norfolk, within Louisiana or Virginia (including what would become West Virginia in 1863) , ….”are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.”

Within the document Lincolns acknowledge this is a wartime measure, a strategic instrument to get the Confederate States to give up the war and their slaves would remain theirs. When the rebellious states didn’t comply, the war then becomes one prioritizing the ending of slavery as the objective to preserve the Union, which by the way didn’t set well with many whites in the north as reflected by the New York City Draft Riots in 1863. 

Slavery does not end until the passage of the 13th Amendment in January of 1865, and really doesn’t officially end until it is ratified in December of 1865 (after Lincoln’s assassination) and six months after Juneteenth. So, Juneteenth is a good commemoration of the de facto end of slavery, but the de jure abolishment doesn’t occur until six months later.

Let’s stop saying the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery and that it would take Texas two and a half years to recognize it. The Civil War for all practical purposes ends on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia (the main Confederate force) to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Other Confederate forces continued the fight either not knowing about Lee’s surrender or not caring. It would take two months for the word to get to Texas, thus ending the fighting. In fact, had the Confederacy won, or had they taken Lincoln up on his offer and stop being in rebellion and fighting, slavery would have still continued. 

Samuel R. Jackson



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