Juneteenth, Slavery and the

Prison Industrial Complex

By Charles Fisher and Randy Fisher @HHSYC

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History of Juneteenth

JuneteenthPic1Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery and 2013 is a very special year marking 150 years since the signing of the historic Emancipation Proclamation (EP).  While the EP had freed most slaves as a war measure, it had not made slavery illegal.  On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth and 8 months later on December 18, 1865 the 13th Amendment, which outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime, was adopted setting the stage for the creation of the 74 billion dollar prison industrial complex.  America is only 5% of the world population but we incarcerate more than any other country in the world.  Over 7 million citizens are under some form of criminal justice supervision.


JuneteenthPic2The Amendment was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, by the House on January 31, 1865, and adopted on December 6, 1865.  On December 18, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed it to have been adopted.  It was the first of the 3 Reconstruction Amendments adopted after the American Civil War.  President Lincoln and other Republicans were concerned that the Emancipation Proclamation, which in 1863 declared the freedom of slaves in 10 Confederate states then in rebellion, would be seen as a temporary war measure, since it was based solely on Lincoln’s war powers.  The Proclamation did not free any slaves in the Border States nor did it abolish slavery.  Because of this, Lincoln and other supporters believed that the amendment to the Constitution was needed.

Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.  Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863.  The EP had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order.  However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Later attempts to explain this two-and-a-half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years.  Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom.  Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations.  And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the EP.  All or none of them could be true.  For whatever the reason, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory in modern times.

National Movement to Support Juneteenth

Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s Juneteenth has enjoyed a growing and healthy interest from communities and organizations throughout the country.  Institutions such as the Smithsonian, the Henry Ford Museum and others have begun sponsoring Juneteenth-centered activities.  In recent years a number of National Juneteenth Organizations have risen to take their place alongside older organizations – all with the mission to promote and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of African-American history and culture.

JuneteenthPic3Juneteenth today celebrates African-American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures.  As it takes on a more national and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing.  The future of Juneteenth looks bright as an increasing number of cities and states come on board; the local committees and organizations will help expedite this growth while minimizing waste and risk.  42 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a State Holiday or State Holiday Observance through a Bill, House Resolution, Senate Resolution or Joint Resolution.  It is only a matter of time before Congress passes legislation to make “Juneteenth Independence Day” a National Day of Observance like Flag Day or Patriot Day.

Mississippi was the last state to ratify the 13th Amendment and its legislature only voted to do so in 1995—130 years after it was originally ratified.  It also failed to officially inform the Office of the Federal Register that it had voted to ratify the Amendment until 2013, meaning that it wasn’t formally in effect until then.  The state was one of 3 to ratify the Amendment in the 20th century, with the others being Kentucky and Delaware, which ratified it in 1976 and 1901, respectively.

Saturday, June 15,2013 Celebration in Harlem with the Ruff Ryders Bike Club

JuneteenthPic4This year will mark the 20th consecutive year that the Juneteenth Committee of Masjid Malcolm Shabazz, in collaboration with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center New York Support Group is celebrating this special day.  On Saturday, June 15, 2013 the annual parade will kick off from 116th St. and Malcolm X Blvd.  It will pass through the heart of Harlem and be seen by thousands in the community who will watch along 116th St., Frederick Douglass Blvd., Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd., 125th St., and Malcolm X Blvd.  It will return to 116th Street between 5th Ave. and Malcolm X Blvd. where the public will enjoy a host of festivities including a reception, carnival, basketball tournament, award ceremony, various youth sports, block fair, food, vendors, live music, entertainment, and speeches on health, economics, education and history.

In keeping with their theme, “Ethnic Excellence Within the African-American Family,” the organizers will acknowledge family members striving to be good role models as leaders of their families and communities.  The Ruff Ryder Bikers will also be “In the House” supporting this very special day as they do every year.  Events like this will be going on throughout the city in recognition of the day and the spirit of its meaning.

JuneteenthPic5At the end of the day we want to use this celebration as a platform to finally unite us as a nation and keep the spirit of Malcolm X in motion, as well as the “Dream of Dr. King” alive where citizens should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.  Can Juneteenth become a tool to help end gun and gang violence?  Well it is our intent to enlighten young citizens about the history of slavery, the significance of Juneteenth and their responsibilities to use Hip-Hop as a positive tool to become productive law-abiding citizens.  You can control your future by understanding your past.  History through the “Power of Education” is the gateway for success.

It is through the slave trade that America became the greatest country on earth and now the Prison Industrial Complex is here to take its place.  African-Americans have come a long way, but yet there is a lot of work that has to be done to stop the “Black-on-Black” crime, gun and gang violence that continues to devastate our communities.  The Source Magazine and the Hip-Hop Summit Youth Council want to pay tribute to all those, both black and white, that helped put an end to the worst crime in history.  Young people, you can not let the pain and suffering of your ancestors be in vain, you must step up to the plate and use your FREEDOM (which many of us take for granted), wisdom and skills to make this a better world for the next generation.