History and Abolition
What is Juneteenth and why is it important to celebrate? Juneteenth is the day that descendants of slaves – black people and people of color by in large which includes Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, etc – celebrate slavery being formally abolished in all states of the Union on June 19th, 1863.
Why that date? What is the significance? Before we answer that question it’s important to briefly touch on the timeline to this occurring in the first place. Let’s go back to the election of Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was running as an anti-slavery Republican for President in 1860. His election win, caused 11 states to secede from the union between December – April of 1861 and form the Confederate States of America with Jefferson Davis as President. This sparked the Civil War. The Civil War was between the North and the South and their different views on slavery. The CSA wanted to keep slavery and the Union wanted to abolish slavery.
After a few years of bloody war, on January 1st 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation was a document that essentially a document that freed all the slaves in the northern and southern CSA and Union states. However, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited. It exempted states that seceded from the Union and the CSA. Moreover, it’s full enaction depended upon Union Military victory during the Civil War. Regardless of it being limited, the night before January 1st 1863 is known as Freedom’s Eve as for the black community this meant that slaves would largely be free in the Union and the CSA. The passage of the Emancipation Proclamation gave Union Soldiers the right to march in their troop or squadron throughout the south letting slaves know that they were now free. One of the last places to be freed was Galveston Bay, Texas when 2,000 Union troops arrived to free the 250,000 enslaved black people in the state by executive order. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth” by the newly freed people in Texas. As such, people of color celebrate this holiday because they are free from servitude.
Are BIPOC really free?
Well, no. Not even with the passage of the 13th Amendment was slavery formally abolished. The 13th amendment reads:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution
The thirteenth amendment – passed on January 31st, 1865 – doesn’t abolish slavery so much as it legalizes it within prisons. Moreover, given that police – which came out of slave patrols – heavily target black and other minority communities in comparison with white communities. This means, by in large our prisons are comprised of more BIPOC than white people. The statistics back this up. As of 2019 – per the graphic below, there are 2,203 black men and 979 latino men in comparison with 385 white men per 100,000 people behind the bars.
Overall the point here is to show that while we may have passed the Emancipation Proclamation and have the 13th Amendment that got rid of slavery as we knew it, that doesn’t mean much as we still have slavery in other formats because of those things that have come to pass like the 13th Amendment. There is still so much more to be done in the fight for complete and total abolition of slavery as there are still prison that make BIPOC pick cotton.
How can you help BIPOC?
In short, what BIPOC are due is what they were promised but never received: 40 acres and a mule. Today that would be equivalent to 6.4 trillion. Other public institutions that kept out BIPOC was social security, black codes kept BIPOC from starting their own businesses, loan programs excluded BIPOC, and more.
If you are a white person and you are wondering what you can do to help BIPOC, the best thing would be to send them money or offer to take them out to dinner.
The most important thing however that you can do as a white person – if you are – is realize that we still have so much more to go on the fight for racial justice in the United States of America.