On June 19, 1865 Major General Gordon Granger and 1,800 Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, nearly two months after General Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy surrendered in the decisive battle of Appomattox, to announce that slavery finally ended with the issuing of General Order Number 3. This order stated: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
This declaration claimed that there would be “absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” The last enslaved Africans in Texas were set free not by declaration of their freedom, but by the arms of the Union military, who fought loyalists and recalcitrant slave masters who sought to eke out every last drop of labor from their slaves, despite the results of the war. Black freedom was won through persistent struggle against slave masters to the very end – all paper declarations and proclamations of freedom aside.
It is simply a myth that enslaved Africans were unaware of their freedom and were simply ignorant of the declarations. As a formerly enslaved man, Felix Haywood said at the time “We knowed what was goin’ on in [the war] all the time…We all felt like heroes and nobody had made us that way but ourselves.” The ending of slavery was not something to be decreed or proclaimed; freedom had to be seized from the clutches of the defeated slaveocracy by Black people acting as agents of their own liberation.
The ensuing celebration of this emancipation on June 19th came to be known as “Juneteenth” – a distinctly African American holiday commemorating the final death blow against the system of slavery in the United States. Last year, Juneteenth became a federally recognized holiday. But deep inequality still exists between African Americans and the heirs of the slavocracy, and in fact the struggle for Black liberation and freedom rages on as the massive 2020 rebellions demonstrated. It was this massive Black-led resistance that forced the U.S. government’s hand compelling President Biden to make Juneteenth a national holiday. But the U.S. ruling class is stubbornly refusing to make substantial material improvements to the lives of Black people in this country.
Radical Black resistance and rebellion cannot be extinguished with hollow recognition of a racist history that still haunts our present reality. It is this spirit of fierce resistance to all enemies of Black freedom that we must remember and draw on. Black militant resistance to oppression will continue so long as capitalism exists. The real history and legacy of Juneteenth cannot be bottled up and sold, we must fight to remember and reclaim its radical essence.
Across the United States, the fight for some form of reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans continues to gain steam. The fight to abolish the racist police and prison state that has made super-profits off Black and other oppressed people’s labor continues to build. Black workers are leading the multinational class struggle for workers rights through organizing Amazon workers from Bessemer, Alabama to Staten Island, New York.
Despite the unequal and disproportionate damage that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the Black working class, the continued racist police and vigilante terror, and racist treatment of Black migrants, the struggle for complete and total liberation of Black people continues to grow. Black people are not waiting, and cannot afford to wait, for any declarations or proclamations of “freedom” from the ruling class. As Malcolm X so cogently put it: “Any time you beg another man to set you free, you will never be free. Freedom is something that you have to do for yourselves.“
Juneteenth began as a people’s holiday; there were no corporate sponsors or apolitical misremembering – it was a celebration of the militant struggle of Black people fighting for their freedom and humanity to the very end. The Party for Socialism and Liberation recognizes and draws inspiration from this crucial history. We recognize the role that the Black working class played in waging what was known as the “second American revolution” against the system of slavery and continues to play today in the overall struggle for liberation from oppression and exploitation in this country. The struggle for socialism is inseparable from the struggle for Black liberation and Juneteenth represents this valiant fight to eradicate all vestiges of racism and white supremacy. On Juneteenth we recommit to the fight for Black liberation in our lifetime!
This article was republished from Liberation News.