By State Representative Leon Young
This coming Saturday marks the 145th anniversary of Juneteenth Day. As in years past, countless Black Milwaukeeans will again take to the streets in observance of this historic event. But, what is the real significance of Juneteenth Day?
Though Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, it had minimal immediate effect on most slaves’ day-to-day lives, particularly in Texas , which was almost entirely under Confederate control. Texas, for the most part, remained resistant to the notion of emancipating its slaves.
Juneteenth commemorates June 18 and 19, 1865. June 18 is the day Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves.
Following the Civil War, during the era of Reconstruction, Blacks made remarkable strides. They were afforded the opportunity to own their own land, start their own businesses and even hold political offi ces in Congress. But, this new era of opportunity for Blacks would soon come to an end.
With the Compromise of 1877, the Union Army intervention in the South ceased and Republican control collapsed in the state governments of the former Confederate South. This was followed by a period that White Southerners labeled “Redemption,” which saw the enactment of Jim Crow laws and (after 1890) the disenfranchisement of most Blacks. The Democratic Party dominated the “Solid South” with few breaks into the 1960s, when the civil rights and voting rights of the Blacks were restored by Congress.
The Civil Rights struggle, spearheaded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was waged to dramatically improve social conditions, and win equal protection under the law for citizens of all races. The Civil Rights Movement was the catalyst for several noted legislative achievements: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination based on “race, color, religion, or national origin” in employment practices and public accommodations; the Voting Rights Act 1965 that restored and protected voting rights; the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, that dramatically opened entry to the U.S. to immigrants other than traditional European groups; and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, that banned discrimination in the sale or rental of housing.
As history clearly indicates, African Americans have had to struggle and fight for each of its civil rights in this country. Many would have us believe that we, as a nation, have turned the page in terms of race relations and cite the election of Barack Obama as conclusive evidence.
True enough, some Blacks have made substantial progress in breaking the glass ceiling in a number of areas. However, for the vast majority of Blacks, they still continue to languish well behind their white counterparts.
And so, as we celebrate Juneteenth Day 2010, we should be mindful that something have changed — but much more remains undone.