Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Happy Juneteenth!

For the uninitiated: today is Juneteenth -- our Independence Day.

Everyone thinks they know when Lincoln freed the slaves but the claptrap they teach you in school isn't entirely true. The Emancipation Proclamation that was signed and issued on September 23, 1862 freed the slaves in Confederate states that weren't under Union control. Everyone else was still enslaved. Lincoln was just trying to break the South and rally Northerners (who had plenty of slaves, by the way) to end the war. As the Union moved forward and conquered the South, more and more slaves were freed. Quite a few states ignored the federal government (it's the Southern way, isn't it?) and kept the ball rolling. Texas was one of them. The slaves on Galveston Island didn't find out that they were free until June 19, 1865.

I can't believe that people are surprised to find out that there were slaves in New York City or their part in the Civil War. Without them, New York City wouldn't be the worldwide financial powerhouse that it is now.

Of course, Juneteenth is an official holiday in Texas. I guess they had to make it official because everyone was taking the day off, anyway. It's celebrated all over the south but when I first came up north, no one had ever heard of it. Yankees are catching on, though: Buffalo boasts the 2nd biggest celebration in the country. And this year in Harlem, there was a parade and a double dutch tournament and everything, even if it did happen last weekend.

I always had fun on Juneteenth in Austin. It was all about blues music outdoors somewhere, crazy-tasty Sam's BBQ and that Big Red soda! If I could wave a magic wand and be anywhere celebrating this year, it would be Ponca City, Oklahoma. Playing horseshoes! A rodeo! Cake raffles! Frito pie!

*sigh* oh, well. back to the yankee corporate salt mines...

but before i go, here's an interesting tidbit from the NY Sun regarding an apology for slavery from New York state. I like it that they mention the exhibit from the New York Historical Society about Slavery and the Civil War. Maybe someone saw it and wised up.


N.Y.'s Apology for Slavery Is Readied for 'Juneteenth'
BY JACOB GERSHMAN - Staff Reporter of the Sun June 13, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/56415

ALBANY — Lawmakers are poised to approve legislation that would make New York the first northern Union state to issue a formal apology for its role in the slave trade.

Following on the heels of other states that have recently apologized or expressed regret over slavery, the Legislature is expected to pass its own apology bill before it breaks for the summer next week — in time to commemorate the June 19, or "Juneteenth," anniversary marking the day in 1865 when federal troops liberated the last slaves in Texas.

Sponsors of the legislation said the Democrat-led Assembly would act first in passing the bill and would be followed by the Republican-led Senate, some of whose members have expressed concern that offering such an apology could give a boost to supporters of slavery reparations.
The Assembly this year introduced a separate bill that would create a commission to study reparations, a measure that has gotten less support and most likely won't pass the chamber this session, lawmakers said.

The apology bill would amend Chapter 137 of the laws of 1817 relating to slavery, statutes that set in motion the eventual emancipation of slaves in New York in 1827, to declare that the "government of the state of New York formally apologizes for its role in sanctioning and perpetuating slavery and its vestiges."

It also "acknowledges that slavery, the transatlantic and the domestic slave trade were appalling tragedies in the history of New York state not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude, organized nature and especially their negation of the humanity of the enslaved person."

In February, Virginia lawmakers, who were marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, approved a resolution that expressed "profound regret" for the state's sanctioning of the institution of slavery. Since then, Maryland, North Carolina, and Alabama have passed similar measures accepting blame for their contribution to slavery.

The history of slavery in New York, a story of human rights horrors mingling with triumphs, is less well known than in other states, where slavery was more firmly entrenched. In 2005, the New-York Historical Society helped fill in the gaps of knowledge with its high-profile exhibit "Slavery and the Making of New York."

The legislation "may be symbolic, but the reason that New York City is the financial capital of the world is because of its involvement in the slave trade," the bill's sponsor in the Assembly, Keith Wright, a representative of Harlem who is African-American, said.

Slavery existed in New York for more than 200 years. The state both legalized enslavement of Africans and taxed the sale of slaves. The 1817 statute that gradually emancipated slaves also imposed penalties on people who harbored slaves.

Slaves in New Amsterdam, the Dutch colonial town that became New York City, built a major and fort to guard against English colonies, a dock to receive cargo, and roads into the Manhattan island, according to the Historical Society.

"By the 1740s, 20% of New York's inhabitants were slaves and two out of every five households had at least one. Repressive laws were written to control them but the enslaved conspired, rebelled, and ran away relentlessly," according to the Web site of the Historical Society. After the start of the American Revolution, New York City's population of free blacks soared, although slavery remained an important part of the city's economy until it was finally abolished in 1827.

The Senate sponsor of the bill, Dale Volker, a Republican who represents a district in Western New York and is white, said it was likely that the Senate would back the measure, despite concerns among some members that the bill is a steppingstone to reparations. "They have to do it," he said. "It's not like we're apologizing for anything that we're doing now. Why does it hurt us" to say slavery is wrong?

Mr. Wright said his slavery apology bill and the bill proposed by one of his colleagues, Hakeem Jeffries, proposing a reparations study should not be considered as a legislative package.

A spokeswoman for Governor Spitzer did not immediately know his position on the apology bill.

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