Melyssa Barrett: Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion, and equity. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.
I saw a poster the other day that talked about freedom, the definition of freedom, and it said the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint. Exemption from external control. The power to determine action without a restraint of any kind. Then I looked it up and I saw a definition that said the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants, and I started thinking about what does freedom mean to you? What does freedom mean to me?
I realized how significant Juneteenth must have been. To see those Union soldiers coming into Galveston, Texas to help people understand that the enslaved were now free. On January 1, 1863, what they called Freedom’s Eve, the first watch night services took place. On that night, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes all across the country awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. At the stroke of midnight, prayers were answered as all enslaved people in Confederate states were declared legally free.
Union soldiers, many of whom were black, marched onto plantations and across cities in the south reading small copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, spreading the news of freedom in Confederate states. President Lincoln, acting under war powers in September of 1862, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves held in Confederate states, but it didn’t affect border states that were loyal to the Union, states like Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and even West Virginia after 1863.
These border states never succeeded from the Union so the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t apply. While many of those states abolished slavery before the war ended, Delaware and Kentucky did not. They didn’t abolish slavery until December of 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified so you can imagine during this time there were large scale, violent raids, feuds, and assassinations. It was only through the 13th Amendment that the Emancipation became national policy. The 13th Amendment passed the Senate on April 8, 1864 and, by the House, it passed on January 31, 1865.
The joint resolution of both of those bodies that submitted the amendment to the states for approval was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on February 1, 1865, again, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Of course, not everyone in Confederate territory was immediately free. Even though the Emancipation was made effective in 1863, it couldn’t be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free. If you remember, Galveston, an island in the northwestern part of the Gulf of Mexico, is somewhat remote but it’s also a place where people knew they could go and keep their slaves. It was only 50 miles southeast of Houston but Galveston was a prominent destination for shipping and trade industries.
Finally, freedom came on June 19, 1865 when General Gordon Granger led some 2,000 Union troops which arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. He announced that more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state were free by executive decree. This came to be known as Juneteenth by the newly freed people in Texas. Formerly enslaved people in Galveston celebrated after the announcement. Juneteenth honors the memory of June 19, 1865. It is known as Freedom Day and serves as a reminder that it took a civil war to legally end slavery in this country.
President Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021. In the state of California, it’s still not yet a holiday but we’re hoping to see that passed at the state level in 2022. Our historical legacy of Juneteenth really shows the value of never giving up hope in uncertain times. As you go about your day, share your knowledge to help bring awareness to those who don’t know about Juneteenth. Take time to educate yourself on the history and events of this country. Seek out black-owned businesses to help advance economic empowerment. We have built this country. Black people are still fighting for justice and equity and I urge you, as a leader, to intentionally create efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and do your part by educating yourselves and others. Use your voice.
Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.