Four myths about Juneteenth

Today is a federal holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865 that has come to be known as Juneteenth. NPR tries to dispel four myths about what actually happened that day. Myth #4 is that “The Juneteenth Order was basically a Texas version of the Emancipation Proclamation.” The order that was posted in Texas was different.

Fact: General Orders No. 3 stated unequivocally “all slaves are free,” but it also contained patronizing language intended to appease planters who didn’t want to lose their workforce. Forty-one words of the brief 93-word order urged enslaved people to stay put and keep working.

“The freed are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Sam Collins: “The last two sentences advised the freedmen to remain at their present homes and work for wages. So you’re free, but don’t go anywhere.”

Ed Cotham: “Many years later, the formerly enslaved (interviewed for the 1930s WPA Slave Narratives) remembered when the Freedom Paper was read to them. The slaveholder wanted to keep them working, but they didn’t hear it that way. Once they heard “all slaves are free” they said to hell with you. That’s what made the Juneteenth Order so memorable and made it succeed.”

Myth #1 is that slaves in Texas did not hear about their emancipation until that day, more than two years after Lincoln issued the declaration. That is false. They knew it almost immediately since there was a very efficient communication network among slaves in Texas. So why did they not say “to hell with it” then? Because the slave states used brutal methods to enforce the abominable practice and the state governments and the legal system were part of that repressive apparatus. The slave states essentially said “to hell with it” to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and it required their defeat by the Union army before the proclamation could be enforced and slaves were free in practice as well as in law.

Of course, we then saw the post-Reconstruction period in which states passed laws that created a new form of subjugation that deprived Blacks of receiving the full benefits of freedom, practices that have had negative consequences down to this day.


  1. consciousness razor says

    Myth #5 is that it marks the time when slavery was “really” over in the US, as a legal institution. That won’t happen until we remove the words “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” from the 13th amendment. We’ve had 158 years to fix that problem since then, but we just can’t seem to stop.

  2. Owlmirror says

    but we ju$t can’t $eem to $top.

    There’$ probably $ome $trong rea$on for that…

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @1: You omitted the previous phrase from that sentence; “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude,…”.

    It seems clear (to me) that the exception applies to involuntary service, not slavery. Involuntary service is widespread, even outside the US.

    Do you consider being sentenced to N hours of community service a form of slavery?

  4. consciousness razor says

    There’$ probably $ome $trong rea$on for that…

    Perhap$, but it’$ impo$$ible to a$$e$$ thing$ and a$certain the U$A’$ $hortcoming$, if tho$e exi$t.

  5. consciousness razor says

    It seems clear (to me) that the exception applies to involuntary service, not slavery.

    Even if you think “involuntary servitude” is not slavery, which is bullshit, the meaning is straightforwardly that neither shall exist, with that exception. The exception applies to both, whether or not they’re the same thing. If they wanted to say so, they could have, but they did not, because there just isn’t anything in the text which supports that.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    So being sentenced to community service is slavery? It is involuntary servitude.

  7. consciousness razor says

    It’s as if you think this is fucking Canada…. You’re embarrassing yourself, but I can’t help you with that I guess. People should not be forced to work for little or no pay, end of story.

    If you feel like it’s important to remark that some such practices are widespread, that is not a coherent excuse and never has been. It only makes things worse, not better.

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    The contortions you go through to avoid answering a simple question is amazing. Is being sentenced to community service (in whichever country) a form of slavery or not?

  9. consciousness razor says

    Do you consider wage slavery to be a form of slavery? Can’t move on until you answer that, because so fucking much depends on what your considerations are.

  10. Deepak Shetty says

    @consciousness razor

    You’re embarrassing yourself,

    Speaking for myself -- but not answering a direct question , given 3 opportunities is the embarrassing part of the exchange. Your broader point may be correct but most absolutes run into trouble in the real world.

  11. lochaber says

    I always assumed people doing community service as part of a punishment, were doing that in lieu of a larger fine/prison term, or such. Is that not the case? Like, what happens to them if they simply don’t complete the community service?

  12. consciousness razor says

    Speaking for myself — but not answering a direct question , given 3 opportunities is the embarrassing part of the exchange.

    I immediately said Rob’s distinction was bullshit. Would answering his exact question clarify things any more? I don’t think so. His response: don’t concede that he’s wrong, just redirect.

    I responded again, saying that it should not happen. Not hard to understand that either. I simply don’t care which kind of label he wants to attached to it. I also explained why I think that line of argument doesn’t make any sense for him. His response is still to complain that he didn’t get the exact information that he sought. Why does it matter? No way to know for sure, but it’s apparently because he has nothing else.

    He acts like that makes for some kind of an argument, but the only thing I can see it doing is minimizing how awful our incarceration problem actually is in the US, as if it were just a matter of people doing “community service.”

    But yes, I’m completely fine with ending all sorts of bullshit punishments like that, if that is supposed to be the point of the question. You want to make things extra hard on the poor? No. Figure out something else, but this time, aim it at the rich so they’re brought down to the same level as the rest of us.

  13. Deepak Shetty says

    @consciousness razor

    saying that it should not happen.. Why does it matter?

    That you think it may be wrong and it should not happen isnt the point of the argument. It doesnt matter in the sense that the US prison system needs reform , it matters in the sense it refutes how you are framing your argument.

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