How Juneteenth Got Its Name: The End of Slavery

We have all heard of The French Revolution, but how many of us have heard of Juneteenth? If you have listened to the popular song Yankee Doodle, you must also learn about Juneteenth. To understand what Juneteenth (June + Nineteenth) is all about, let’s rewind to the 1860s in America.


Abraham Lincoln abolishes slavery

When America was founded as a democracy in 1789, it wasn’t free for everybody. Whether you were free or not really depended on the colour of your skin. Contrary to what Micheal Jackson told us, it did matter if you were black or white.

This changed on 1st January 1981. The President of America – Abraham Lincoln – abolished slavery in the country by issuing a presidential order – the “Emancipation Proclamationâ€. This is literally a declaration that someone would be set free from slavery. 

Abolishing slavery – faced a severe backlash from the slave owners in “the Southâ€. They were pro-slavery and started a civil war in America. This war amongst the citizens lasted from 1861 to 1865.

Civil war between the North and South

The states of the South (Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) decided to break away from the United States of America. These regions were heavily reliant on agriculture. Thus, they weren’t willing to free the slave labour that worked on the plantations. They did not recognise the abolishment of slavery. Therefore, they formed the “Confederate of Statesâ€. This was an unrecognised, breakaway state that existed for the duration of the civil war.

They also formed their own army, called the Confederate States Army, to battle it out with the United States.
It is in this context that the Southerners refer to the Northerns as “Yankeesâ€. While the song Yankee Doodle is sung patriotically today, it has also been used derogatorily against the US army.

The book ‘Gone with the Wind’ talks of this civil war and vividly describes this schism that emerged from within the country.

The Confederate loses the war

It seems unintuitive today that a bunch of states would be so pro-slavery that they could gather forces to create a new nation of their own. And all this to protect slavery and exploit the slaves. But it also shows that the fight for the rights of blacks has raged on for centuries. The sad part is that it continues today (as seen via the recent “George Floyd†incident).

Many lives – more than 600,000 – were lost as a result of the civil war. The Confederate finally lost when Major of the Army reached Texas. He announced a ceasefire, declaring that the war was over.

Declaration of Juneteenth

June 19th was not the day that the war ended. However, according to folklore, it was the day when the slaves were finally free. This sparked large celebrations, which are seen every year on June 19th.

They celebrate the occasion by wearing their best clothes, singing songs, and eating lavishly. Many talks and exhibitions take place this day, and people gather to celebrate Juneteenth, also called the Second Independence Day.

Relevance of Juneteenth Today

While it has been over 200 years since Lincoln abolished slavery, it appears that it will take many more centuries to level the playing field. The oppression of the blacks may not be legal today, yet it happens in all sorts of informal well-documented ways. Today, blacks are still overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in the parliament and legislature. If you are black, you are more likely to be stopped by the police, imprisoned, paid lesser salaries, and suffer from ill-health.

The fight against oppression and marginalisation goes on. There is an ounce of relief and recognition from 2022 onwards; Juneteenth has been declared an official national holiday in the USA!

If you love positive news like this to kick-start your morning, here are some sites that you should bookmark. Every step towards equality is a stride towards tomorrow!

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Written by Tanya

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