Juneteenth: "Emancipation is a marker of progress for white Americans, not black ones"

Tomorrow is Juneteenth, commemorating the freeing of enslaved Black people in Texas on June 19, 1865. That was the day that Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger delivered a message to the people of Galveston, Texas that the Union had won the Civil War and they could enforce the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas. (Of course, slavery in the US wasn't officially abolished until the ratification of the 13th Amendment six months later.) Finally, this week, the US government has recognized June 19 as a national holiday—Juneteenth National Independence Day. But as historian and Columbia University journalism professor Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker last year, "Emancipation is a marker of progress for white Americans, not black ones." From the New Yorker:

[…] Juneteenth exists as a counterpoint to the Fourth of July; the latter heralds the arrival of American ideals, the former stresses just how hard it has been to live up to them. This failure was not exclusive to the South. Northern states generally abolished slavery in the decades after the American Revolution, but many slaveholders there, rather than free the people they held in bondage, sold them to traders in the South, or moved to states where the institution was still legal. The black men, women, and children who heard [Major General Gordon] Granger's pronouncement [of emancipation] a hundred and fifty-five years ago in Galveston were not slaves; they were a barometer of American democracy.

There's a paradox inherent in the fact that emancipation is celebrated primarily among African-Americans, and that the celebration is rooted in a perception of slavery as something that happened to black people, rather than something that the country committed. The paradox rests on the presumption that the arrival of freedom should be greeted with gratitude, instead of with self-reflection about what allowed it to be deprived in the first place.

"Juneteenth and the Meaning of Freedom" by Jelani Cobb (The New Yorker)

image: "An early celebration of Emancipation Day (Juneteenth) in 1900" / Mrs. Charles Stephenson (Grace Murray) – The Portal to Texas History Austin History
Center, Austin Public Library (public domain)