The Myths and Realities About Juneteenth
Preeminent historians Mr. Hari Jones and Dr. Gerald Horne discuss the many misunderstandings related to myths of Black freedom and notions of progress associated with Juneteenth celebrations.
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, IMIXWHATILIKE: What’s up world, and welcome to another edition of I Mix What I Like here at The Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball.
June 19, like many dates, has different meanings for different people, and for many none at all. However, that date, referred by some as Juneteenth, does have a particular meaning, history, and current relevance. To discuss some of those competing or differing meanings, we have with us two preeminent historians of the black experience, or what Arturo Schomburg once called the missing pages of world history.
With me in-studio is Mr. Hari Jones. He’s the assistant director and curator of the African-American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation and museum in Washington, DC. And by webcam we have again Dr. Gerald Horne, who is a professor at the University of Houston and author of more than 30 books, articles, and essays including Race to Revolution: the U.S. and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow, and The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.
Welcome, gentlemen, to the show. Thank you for taking your time. We appreciate it. Welcome to I Mix What I Like and The Real News Network.
Hari Jones, let’s start with you. I asked you off-camera just a minute ago what does Juneteenth mean to you. If you would quickly tell us what it’s meant to mean, and then indeed what it does mean for you and your interpretation of black history and the history of America in general.
HARI JONES, ASST. DIR./CURATOR OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CIVIL WAR MUSEUM: It certainly does not mean the lie that’s often spread that’s quite popular that it’s the day that the ignorant slaves in Texas received word that they had been freed on January 1, 1863. the Emancipation Proclamation had to be enforced. And so Juneteenth means to me that Texas has been brought back in the union. That it has been enforced. And so Juneteenth is the end of a military campaign, that military campaign that was the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was a high priority among African-American soldiers. Frederick Douglass made it very clear in October 1862 that in order for the Emancipation Proclamation to free any slaves, “we must have the ability to put down the rebellion.”
So in each state that was in rebellion there’s a different day in which that state is brought back in the union. And that day is Emancipation Day, through the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, in that respective state. Texas happens to be the last one to be brought back in. It’s not when all the enslaved are set free, because slavery was still legal in Delaware and Maryland. So it doesn’t mean that it’s the day that all the slaves are set free. But it is the end of that military campaign that saves the union and enforces the Emancipation Proclamation in the last of those ten states that were in rebellion.
BALL: Gerald Horne, I’ll ask you the same question. Juneteenth as it’s popularly understood, and Juneteenth as you would prefer it be understood.
GERALD HORNE, CHAIR OF HISTORY AND AFRICAN AM. STUDIES, UNIV. OF HOUSTON: Well, as it’s already been said, we need to reconfigure the Emancipation Proclamation in order to understand Juneteenth. That is to say that contrary to popular opinion, when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, coming into effect January 1, 1863, it was not necessarily a charter for liberty and emancipation for Africans as intended by the Africans themselves. From Washington’s point of view it was a war-fighting measure. And you glean the significance by noting that its impact and effect was largely on regions and territories and states over which Washington had no jurisdiction, because they were in rebellion against Washington. And this was a way in which to free the property, if you like, of the fighting, slave-owning confederacy, so that property, so-called, could then join in the fight against the so-called confederacy.
In that context, Texas was a major battleground. Keep in mind that when Texas seceded from Mexico circa 1836, once again contrary to popular rumor and opinion, a driving force was the fact that the so-called Anglos, like Stephen Austin for example, wanted to maintain slavery in the face of Mexico moving to abolition. When Texas became an independent country between 1836 and 1845, it was one of the major slave-owning and slave-trading entities in the Americas. For example, I’ve detailed in previous books how the lone star flag could be found off the coast of Brazil, from off the coast of West Africa, involved in the slave trade during that ignominious period from 1836-1845 when Texas was independent.
And then when it became part of the United States in 1845, it joined the United States in part because there was so much abolitionist pressure against Texas, and it felt that it could not stand alone, that the only way to survive as a slave-owning entity was to join the United States of America. Therefore, when Texas was forced at the point of a bayonet and the point of a rifle to drop slavery and rejoin the United States of America circa June 1865, approximately 150 years ago, this was a major victory for freedom, emancipation, and for Africans in the first place.
BALL: I want to ask you both, and Professor Horne, I’m going to come back to you on this. Because I know you have a book coming out on Haiti, and given what’s going on there right now it seems appropriate to incorporate that in this discussion. Because I’m thinking about, and some of us are critical of this notion of freedom, and notions that, or the idea that something, some event occurred and now things are different and we’ve overcome something.
It seems like–first of all it’s important that we remind everyone that the freedom struggle here in the United States among African people was greatly inspired by the Haitian revolution, so that’s one parallel I want to draw here. But given what’s happening in Haiti right now, in the forthcoming book you have on that country, how do we, how can we use that reality to help us understand this sort of–what I would describe as a false notion of progress, or false notions of unfreedom to freedom? In other words, the continuity of this struggle. Could you help me with that parallel, or comparison.
HORNE: Well first of all, it’s a brilliant question. Second of all, as we speak the government of the Dominican Republic, which shares the Island of Hispaniola with Haiti, is about to expel hundreds if not thousands of Haitians–on racist grounds, let’s be clear, in a struggle that goes back to Dominican independence in 1844, a subject of my forthcoming book, Confronting Black Jacobins: The United States, the Haitian Revolution, and the Origins of the Dominican Republic.
With regard to Haiti, what listeners and viewers need to realize is that, as I argue and as others have suggested, a motive force for the abolition of slavery in what is now the United States was the Haitian revolution. It set in motion a general crisis of the entire slave system that could only be resolved with that system’s collapse.
The lesson we should glean from that particular nugget of information is that as we struggle today in our various coalitions, particularly in Black Lives Matter, and particularly against the spate of cop killings of our folk, that our struggle and the victories of our people has been largely dependent A, on our militancy right here at home, and B, on our ability to understand the international situation and forge coalitions amongst the antagonists of the government that now rules in Washington, DC.
BALL: Hari Jones, let me ask you the similar question. I mean, how can we use this history of Juneteenth to interpret what’s happening now, in terms of, as I described, this lack of freedom or lack of progress, as I would prefer it be understood. How do we use this history to, again, interpret the present?
JONES: Nothing happened without action. Without resistance. Resistance, resistance, resistance. You know, often when we even talk in terms of ‘by any means necessary’ we attribute that to Malcolm X. Actually, that’s Henry Highland Garnet, 1843, in Buffalo. When he’s calling freedom [inaud.] by any necessary means, that we were going to have to–and so we must understand this history of resistance, that progress is only made through struggle, through resistance. And we have to continue it.
What happens is we get to the top of the hill and we say, oh, it’s over. And then we get bombarded while on the hill. No, we have to continue. The struggle continues. This idea that we win and therefore we just quit, this is not a football game. This is life. And there’s no four quarters, it’s continuous.
So the struggle continues, and we need to examine that which is there, that is a part of the system that oppresses. You know, one example is police brutality. The police force in the United States is not designed off of the British constabulary system where the peace officer keeps the peace among free men. The colonies were ruled by positive law. Meaning, the negro can be held in slavery. Negro slavery. Where in England after the Somerset case, if you said you wanted to be free you were free, if you were of African descent. But that’s not true here. In 1708 South Carolina establishes their patrolling system, their laws of patrolling, which is keeping the negroes in their proper place, in curfew, on the plantations where they’re supposed to be. Every state in the union in 1776, when there was this Declaration of Independence, was a slaveholding state. And every state had developed their local police off of this patrolling system, designed to be antagonistic toward persons of African descent.
So we can’t sit on the hill and say oh, it’s over. We get–we can get some African-Americans on the patrolling team. We can make them slave patrollers, and somehow the slave patrollers are no longer slave patrollers. No, this is a system that is flawed. And we need to understand that we don’t have a system designed for keeping the peace, we have a system designed for keeping certain people in their proper place.
So the struggle continues, resistance, resistance, resistance, and we need to understand that. And we need to be sophisticated about the type of resistance that we conduct, and we need to make it appropriate for the time and space. But never should we think that the struggle is over.
BALL: I can’t think of a better way to end this segment. And one of the most troubling things of the many that has always bothered me about the film Roots is the way it ends, with people riding off literally into the sunset, as if everything had been taken care of.
Thank you, Professor Horne, thank you Mr. Jones for joining us on this segment of I Mix What I Like and The Real News Network.
HORNE: Thank you.
JONES: Thank you. It was a pleasure.
BALL: And thank you for joining us here at I Mix What I Like and The Real News Network. For all involved, I’m Jared Ball. And as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace, if you’re willing to fight for it. Peace, everybody.
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