Juneteenth, as my colleague Vann R. Newkirk II put it, celebrates a “belated liberation.” On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freedom finally reached the isolated state of Texas.
In the century and a half since, the holiday “has retained that sense of belatedness,” that sense that justice for black Americans remains overdue. As Vann wrote a few years ago:
As the belated emancipation embedded in the holiday foretold generations of black codes, forced labor, racial terror, police brutality, and a century-long regime of Jim Crow, it also imbued the holiday with a sense of a Sisyphean prospect of an abridged liberty, with full citizenship always taunting and tantalizing, but just one more protest down the road.
The tenor of Juneteenth has changed. Black Americans see more clearly just how deep white supremacy rests in the country’s bones. The sorrow now predominates, and with it comes an urgency to hold power to account, and to remember who and what is owed.
This holiday is a complex one, part celebration, part reckoning with all of the ways that emancipated slaves were denied true citizenship. In the works below, you’ll find articles arguing that emancipation must be coupled with suffrage and reparation, and stories that reflect further on this complicated and under-recognized holiday.
A man who escaped slavery tells his story and shares the joys of newfound freedom:
I had broken the bonds that held me so firmly; and now, instead of fears of recapture, that before had haunted my imagination whenever I thought of running away, I felt as light as a feather, and seemed to be helped onward by an irresistible force.
Truth shines with brighter light and intenser heat at every moment, and a country torn and rent and bleeding implores relief from its distress and agony. … Radicalism, so far from being odious, is now the popular passport to power.
A senator mourns the death of Abraham Lincoln and his plans for reconstruction:
The humane and generous heart of President Lincoln repelled with horror the cruelty and weakness which would involve in punishments and penalties a whole people. Such wrongs and injuries, such injustice and impolicy, were reserved for those less moderate and magnanimous, who, on his violent and deplorable death, succeeded to the reins of government.