Juneteenth

Because of the American insistence on three-day weekends, Juneteenth has joined July 4th as a national holiday named after a day but not necessarily celebrated on that day. Maybe this post should have been yesterday, which was actually June 19th, but the holiday is today.

The holiday is named after the day that slaves in Texas were formally emancipated, two months after the Civil War had ended and therefore two months after emancipation should have already happened. General Granger’s order on emancipation was issued in Galveston, which was then one of the largest if not the largest city in Texas. This is all basic history, but it feels distant. The issues involved were nationwide, not Texan. For example, here’s a census of the New York colony, showing 19 percent of Manhattan’s population as slaves:

Slavery in the state of New York was abolished after the revolutionary war, but very slowly, with the formal end not occurring until 1827. The simple north-versus-south view of slavery and its continuing social effects ignores facts like this. The federal government making Juneteenth a national holiday is one way to address this in public consciousness, assuming people pay attention.

The picture above shows the African Burial Ground National Monument here in New York, where thousands of slaves and free Blacks were buried and then forgotten, the site being hidden below nineteenth-century buildings. The land was used for that purpose because it was swampy, adjacent to the Collect Pond; the landfill that erased the pond and made the site suitable for building accidentally protected the graves by putting them under fill rather than being excavated for cellars. The construction of the memorial in the 1990s was a piece of the local effort – along with the projects at Weeksville and Seneca Village – to pull this part of our local history into present consciousness.

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