Juneteenth: A Primer

One of many peaceful protests that took place in Toronto this month. More are planned for this weekend. Photo: Blog TO

We are a grocery store. We feed people. We often delve into the history of recipes and ingredients here on the blog. And we post a lot of recipes! But writing about recipes seems trite at a time like this, so we thought we’d take a look at some history that speaks to the cultural moment we are all living in.

With current events all of us are coming to a greater understanding of the Black people in our community and around the world who live lives that appear much like our own on the surface, but in actuality are a very different reality to the experiences that so many of us take for granted.

The more we learn, the better friends, neighbours and allies we can be. To that end, here is a primer about Juneteenth.


text courtesy of Juneteenth.com

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

 

Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or none of these versions could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question.
Whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

 

The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former ‘masters’ – attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America.

A peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Barrie, Ontario. Photo: CTV News

Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territories. The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.

Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing.

As we’ve seen over the recent weeks, true independence and equality for Black people is still being fought for. To be better allies we thought it best to know some history. For recent stories about Juneteenth that place it within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and the current situation that is galvanizing the entire world, please read this article by Brianna Holt in the New York Times, and this piece from CTV News.

More peaceful protests are planned for Toronto this weekend, details here



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