Historians say preserving Juneteenth’s historical past is necessary for each the previous and the current – CBS Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – For many Americans, freedom is something we celebrate every July 4th and recognize our nation’s independence from Britain. But for others in this country, independence would not be achieved until a century later.
Most modern textbooks mark the abolition of slavery in the United States with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. But the struggle for freedom actually went on for several years, leading to what we now know as June 10th.
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The whole story of how the Afro-American ancestors of this country dropped their shackles has remained unspoken in many classrooms.
“Not only do students need to know the history of the United States, they also need to understand that it is part of its history, even if they are not African American themselves,” said Dr. Robin Chapdelaine, Assistant Professor of History at Duquesne University.
Juneteenth is something that is always covered in Chapdelaine’s classroom.
“We will never understand the plight of African Americans in US society today if we don’t take our past and the struggle of African Americans seriously,” said Chapdelaine.
On January 1, 1863, the Abraham Lincoln Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and freed those enslaved in Confederate states. Union soldiers spread the news by reading the proclamation on the plantations as they marched south. But in some states this news has not been heard for more than 2 years.
“Without the Union Army presence in Texas in 1865, who knows how long slavery could have existed,” said Samuel W. Black, the director of African American programs at the Heinz History Center.
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Union soldiers arrived in Texas on June 19, 1865 and announced that an estimated quarter of a million people still enslaved in the state were free.
“So the Juneteenth became this Texas thing that spread to the rest of the country, taking in the past Haitian freedom celebrations, the slave trade, and the British West Indies, so to speak, and putting it all into this black freedom celebration,” Black said.
However, full accounting for slavery was not due for another six months after the 13th Amendment came into effect.
But with freedom came a new struggle for equality. It is a struggle that continues to this day, now with a renewed focus on the inequality of the criminal justice system.
“A quarter of all incarnate people in the world live here in the United States. Yet we see Juneteenth as a day of freedom, ”said Black. “We also need to be reminded that we not only recognize what has happened in the past, but what is happening in our society right now.”
But with this recent civil rights movement across the country, historians believe for the first time in a long time that people are listening and hungry to learn more about a story that has long been rewritten.
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From places like Downtown Market Place to the Hill District, historians at the Heinz History Center say Pittsburgh played a significant role in the abolitionist movement.