What Many Don’t Know About Juneteenth…

     The 19th of June is now a national holiday celebrating the U.S. Army freeing the last of the slaves in Galveston, Texas, after the end of the Civil War in 1865. This was over two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all enslaved people to be free in those states that were in rebellion against the Union. The commemoration of this event began as a local celebration in Texas that eventually spread across the country.  What many don’t know is that while it does mark the freeing of the last slaves in the former Confederate States, it was not the end of slavery in America.

       The Emancipation Proclamation declared an end to slavery in those states that had seceded from the Union, but not in those slave states that remained loyal to the Union. Union victories in the South brought the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation with them; however, Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland were slave states that remained loyal to the Union and were not affected by the Proclamation. While Missouri and Maryland ended slavery within their borders by the end of the Civil War, Kentucky and Delaware kept slaves until December 1865, six months after Juneteenth. Additionally, there were slaves in “Indian Territory” (now Oklahoma) kept by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole (the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes”) which would not be freed until August of 1866, fourteen months after Juneteenth.

      So saying that Juneteenth was “the end of slavery in the United States” is not accurate.  It does mark the end of slavery in the former Confederate States, and the beginning of the final “gasps” of the evil institution in our country… and for that, it is worthy of celebration. But it was not yet the end of slavery in our country. This is important because saying, “slavery in America ended on Juneteenth,” denies the plight of those who still suffered as slaves in our country, some for an additional two years. This is important because getting history right is important. 

     Slavery is an ancient practice experienced in societies around the world and, sadly, is still practiced today in many places. While there were those who even twisted Christianity in an erroneous attempt to justify slavery, it was the influence of Christian abolitionists, inspired by the Bible, who can largely be credited with bringing an end to the institution of slavery in countries influenced by the Christian Faith.