Friday, June 19, 2015


Today is the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth - June 19, 1865, the day Union troops arrived in Galveston Texas with news that the war was over and the slaves had been freed. General Gordon Granger read a general order announcing their freedom:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.
And there was, indeed, very great rejoicing. Over the years it became an annual celebration - though one that perhaps grew bittersweet over the years. The United States won the Civil War, but the Confederate states won the Reconstruction - removing many rights from the freed blacks, imposing an apartheid regime in the south, that only started to be undone in the 1950s and 1960s. In recent years, Juneteenth has again become an important celebration in some places - a state holiday in Texas even - and we would not go wrong as a country to make it a national holiday. It is an excellent place to mark the end of the Civil War, and the good that came out of the Civil War - a subject that deserves more celebration.

Right now in particular. The shooting at the AME church in Charleston, SC, is a reminder, if we need one, that the Civil War has not really gone away. A white man, an open racist, goes into a Black church and murders 9 people, spouting off as he did it - “I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.” He seems to have been an over-determined piece of work - racist, drug addled thug, a time bomb waiting to go off - but when he went off, he went off in a Black church pastored by a state senator - whatever he might have been as an individual, his act was political terrorism. Which is nothing new: the south has practiced political terrorism from the day the Civil War ended (of course before that, they practiced terrorism against Blacks for some centuries, though it was all more or less legal), to restore and maintain white supremacy.

There's no escaping it. And this attack is depressingly continuous with all the violence against African Americans - it is continuous with the police murders that have been in the news (Michael Brown and Eric Garvin and Walter Scott and Freddie Gray). It is continuous with the state it occurred in - which still flies the Confederate flag. You can't get around that fact: South Carolina continues to celebrate its role in killing 650,000 plus Americans in defense of slavery and white supremacy - it is a bit disingenuous to lament some free-lancer adding 9 more to the toll, when you do that. Ta-Nehisi Coates sums it up, as he usually does: "The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it." At some point, even the parts of the United States unhappy with the results of the Civil War will need to accept its outcome.

In the meantime, we can celebrate its outcome. Forget the bad news for a while, and have a happy Juneteenth.

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