Juneteenth has become a federal holiday—yet prison slavery under the 13th Amendment continues. Uprooting the prison industrial complex is vital to completing the abolition of slavery. In California, the Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) coalition aims to close 10 state prisons in the next 5 years as part of the People’s Plan for Prison Closure. CURB Executive Director Amber-Rose Howard joins Rattling the Bars to discuss this bold plan. Amber-Rose Howard is a poet, public speaker and organizer from Pomona, California. She currently serves as Executive Director of CURB.
Juneteenth is a bittersweet day for us — and all Black people in prison holding onto the promise of freedom. Let’s start with history. The Emancipation Proclamation — issued by Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862, during the American Civil War — declared that all slaves in the Confederacy would be “forever free.” Unfortunately, that freedom didn’t extend to the four slaveholding states not in rebellion against the Union, and the proclamation was of course ignored by the Confederate states in rebellion. For the roughly 4 million people enslaved, Lincoln’s declaration was symbolic; only after the Civil War ended was the proclamation enforced.
Juneteenth was designated as a federal holiday during 2021 by the United States administration of President Joe Biden. This act of recognition came in the aftermath of an upsurge in mass demonstrations and electoral mobilizations in response to the rash of police and vigilante killings of African Americans during 2020-2021. The holiday had been recognized and celebrated within African American communities largely concentrated in Texas and other areas of the South for over a century. After the surrender of the Confederate military forces in early April 1865, the fate of slavery as an economic system was sealed. Nonetheless, then President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with immediate effect beginning January 1, 1863.
For corporations, June has long been a time to adopt a facade of progressiveness while profiting from performing inclusivity of LGBTQ+ people. But in the past two years, a new occasion has fallen prey to this co-optation: Juneteenth. June 19 — or Juneteenth — commemorates the day that the final enslaved people in the U.S. were emancipated. On this day in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, a union general announced in Galveston, Texas that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” At the time, 250,000 Black people were still enslaved in the state. While Juneteenth has been celebrated every year since then — Texas was, in 1979, the first state to make it an official holiday — President Biden designated the date a federal holiday in June 2021.
"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. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere." General Order Number 3, June 19, 1865 *The fact that members of the United States Senate voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a federal holiday proved that the commemoration is of no political value.
Every year, Pride Month ushers in the summer. For some, this is a celebration of the Stonewall uprising. For corporations and the Democratic Party, it’s a time to co-opt what was once a radical quer movement. Pride month marks a riot led by a Black trans woman, who threw bricks at the cops and alongside other people of color, queer folks and leftists fought the police in the streets for days. But today, it has become not only a profit scheme for corporations, but a means to portray themselves as allies while covering up their complicity in LGBTQ+ oppression. Bank of America, for example, has presented itself as an ally of the queer community, all the while profiting from privatizing and seizing houses from people.
If you saw my column about Juneteenth posted here over the last few days, or a previous version on the website of Be’chol Lashon several years ago, or a video version currently presented by Be’chol Lashon, you would know I had bittersweet feelings about the history of the day. I no longer do. I am outraged by it. My change in emotion comes after learning from historian friends that the oft-repeated tale of Union soldiers arriving in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 to inform enslaved African Americans that they were free is pure fiction. Not because they weren’t legally freed 2-½ months earlier when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Or technically freed 2-1/2 years before when President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring slavery null and void in areas under rebellion, very much including Texas.
I believe the reason there’s more disdain than pride is because it feels like we’re honoring a crime – a day commemorating the end of a 2 ½ year hostage negotiation where the captors were not punished yet instead compensated for the inconvenience of slavery ending. Our collective cases of injustice and reparations have been made with overwhelming evidence. Unfortunately, our moral victories aren’t moving the needle enough to ensure that our lives matter. It might be time to reject these trophies of courage and resilience while perpetrators of violence against us get slapped with feathers. No more ceremonies acknowledging injustices if it’s not accompanied by legislation that prevents it. As we have these national “enlightenment” moments of events like Tulsa, where are the laws that protect Black people from the impulses of that white rage repeating?
Juneteenth was largely a regional holiday celebrated by Black people in Texas and other southern states. It commemorates the events of June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived in Galveston and announced that slavery ended as per General Order Number 3. "The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” It is an important event that ought to be remembered, but its true significance has been lost. Juneteenth has become the latest iteration of liberal capture of Black politics, opportunistic virtue signaling, and the intentional misrepresentation of America’s history. Corrupt and avaricious corporations honor Juneteenth and cynical politicians give it great attention.
Longshoremen are going on strike at 29 ports across the West Coast. The UAW is planning to stop production on all assembly lines for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor George Floyd. The strikes come as workers have walked off the job at over 500 employers in the last 3 weeks alone. The Washington State General Strike saw workers go on wildcat strikes at over 250 locations across the state according to our Strike Tracking Map, The #ShutDownStem strikes last week also saw scientists go on strike at 109 locations across the US. If the size of these strikes last week is any indication, Juneteenth will likely be the largest day of strikes in more than a generation.
Any bright high schooler or Constitutional law expert would say that African Americans were formally liberated when the Georgia legislature ratified the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865, guaranteeing its addition to the U.S. Constitution. Yet freedom came in varied ways to the four million enslaved African Americans long before the end of the Civil War. Some fortunate black women and men were emancipated as early as 1861 when Union forces captured outlying areas of the Confederacy such as the Sea Islands of South Carolina, the Tidewater area of Virginia (Hampton and Norfolk) or when enslaved people escaped from Missouri, Indian Territory, and Arkansas into Kansas.
On June 19, union members who work at the Port of San Diego will stop operations for eight hours in honor of Juneteenth, the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation being first enforced in Texas. The members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union at 29 ports from San Diego to Washington State will halt work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On June 19, 1865, Black slaves in Texas -- the most isolated rebel state in the South during the Civil War -- were told about their emancipation from slavery two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln, which was immediately changed the legal status of enslaved Blacks in the slave-holding states from slave to free.
One day in late June, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas. They carried some historic news: Legal slavery had ended some two and a half years ago with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. And so some of the last enslaved people left in America were freed. The day became known as “Juneteenth,” a holiday still celebrated today in black communities across the United States. Yet more than 150 years after slavery, black wealth still lags centuries behind white wealth.
On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with a Union regiment. It was over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and the enslaved people there and in other areas throughout Texas had not been officially informed that President Abraham Lincoln had decreed they were no longer someone’s property. Granger and his soldiers publicly issued General Order Number 3, telling the people of Texas that “all slaves are free.” The newly freed people of Texas chose that date to commemorate their freedom. This 152-year-old tradition launched by a generation of formerly enslaved people has emerged in the 21st century as a celebration of freedom, and demand for national observation.
This Juneteenth, there are actions around the militarization of police and community-based efforts to create security without the police. Eugene Puryear, who works with Stop Police Terror DC, discusses the Washington DC version of “Stop and Frisk,” which involves Jump Out Squads, and the efforts to get data on how this program works. Stop Police Terror DC grew out of mass Black Lives Matter protests, which Puryer helped organize, in reaction to the police violence in Ferguson, MO and around the country. We also discuss current events