Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House two months earlier in Virginia, but slavery had remained relatively unaffected in Texas—until U.S. General Gordon Granger stood on Texas soil and read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
The Emancipation Proclamation –
The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, had established that all enslaved people in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
But, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t instantly free any enslaved people. The proclamation only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control. However, as Northern troops advanced into the Confederate South, many enslaved people fled behind Union lines.
Juneteenth and Slavery in Texas –
The year following 1865, freedmen in Texas organized the first of what became the annual celebration of “Jubilee Day” on June 19. In the ensuing decades, Juneteenth commemorations featured music, barbecues, prayer services, and other activities, and as black people migrated from Texas to other parts of the country the Juneteenth tradition spread.
In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Today, 47 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, while efforts to make it a national holiday have so far stalled in Congress.
Does an Exception Clause in the 13th Amendment Still Permit Slavery?
The amendment, which officially abolished slavery in the United States in 1865, includes a loophole regarding involuntary servitude.
The year the Civil War ended, the U.S. amended the Constitution to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude. But it purposefully left in one big loophole for people convicted of crimes.
The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, says: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Scholars, activists, and prisoners have linked that exception clause to the rise of a prison system that incarcerates black people at more than five times the rate of white people, and profits off of their unpaid or underpaid labor.
“What we see after the passage of the 13th Amendment is a couple of different things converging,” says Andrea Armstrong, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. “First, the 13th Amendment text allows for involuntary servitude were convicted of a crime.” At the same time, “black codes” in the south created “new types of offenses, especially attitudinal offenses—not showing proper respect, those types of things.”