By State Representative, Leon D. Young
Allow me to be proactive this week in discussing an upcoming community gathering. Next Monday, June 19th, marks the 152nd anniversary of Juneteenth Day. As in years past, countless Milwaukeeans (both Black and white) will congregate for the annual street festival, in observance of this historic event. But, what is the real significance of Juneteenth Day?
Although Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, it had minimal to no effect on the day-to-day lives of most slaves. This was particularly true in Texas, which was entirely under Confederate control, and vehemently opposed to the notion of emancipating its slaves.
Hence, Juneteenth commemorates both June 18th and June 19th (1865). The dates on which General Gordon Granger led 2,000 federal troops into Galveston, Texas to take possession of that once Confederate state and to enforce President Lincoln’s emancipation order.
Following the Civil War, during the Reconstruction Era, Blacks made remarkable strides. For the very first time, Blacks were afforded the opportunity to own their own land, start their own businesses and even hold political offices 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 a few breaks into the 1960s, when the civil rights and voting rights of Black Americans were finally 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 their civil rights, every step along the way. 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 progressive in breaking the glass ceiling in many areas. However, for the clear majority of Black Americans, their opportunities still languish well behind their white counterparts.
And so, as we celebrate Juneteenth Day 2017, we should be mindful of the fact that some things have changed – but much remains the same – and even more is left undone!