Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Celebrating Juneteenth: A Reading Of The Emancipation Proclamation

Juneteenth is getting unusually widespread attention this year, as Americans protest police brutality and racism.

But some Americans have, for years, celebrated it as the day that marks our ancestors' emancipation.

June 19, 1865, was the day U.S. Army troops landed in Galveston, Texas. It was the aftermath of the Civil War. The troops informed some of the last enslaved Americans that they were forever free. They enforced President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which had taken effect on Jan. 1, 1863.

The proclamation declared freedom for the slaves of rebels in the South. It came after almost two years of war, and it took more years of war to enforce it. The order did not free every slave, and the document specified places where it did not apply.

Frederick Douglass, the activist who had been enslaved himself, said Lincoln was slow, even "slothful" in making this "obvious" move. But Douglass celebrated that "the dictation of humanity and justice have at last prevailed."

The Emancipation Proclamation

Michel Martin

By the President of the United States of America: A Proclamation. Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

Michel Martin
Stephen Voss / NPR
/
NPR
Michel Martin

Noel King

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free;

Noel King
Sandy Honig / NPR
/
NPR
Noel King

Sam Sanders

and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

Sam Sanders
/
/
Sam Sanders

Rodney Carmichael

"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States;

Rodney Carmichael.
Morgan Noelle Smith / NPR
/
NPR
Rodney Carmichael.

Juana Summers

and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."

Juana Summers
/ Mary Gardella
/
Mary Gardella
Juana Summers

Dwane Brown

Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion,

Dwane Brown
Robert Dahey / NA
/
NA
Dwane Brown

Audie Cornish

do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:

Audie Cornish
/ Stephen Voss for NPR
/
Stephen Voss for NPR
Audie Cornish

Tonya Mosley

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama,

Tonya Mosley
/ Liz Linder
/
Liz Linder
Tonya Mosley

Brakkton Booker

Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

Brakkton Booker
Allison Shelley / NPR
/
NPR
Brakkton Booker

Korva Coleman

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free;

Korva Coleman
Doby Photography / NPR
/
NPR
Korva Coleman

Gene Demby

and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

Gene Demby
Kainaz Amaria / NPR
/
NPR
Gene Demby

Cheryl Corley

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

Cheryl Corley
Allison Shelley / NPR
/
NPR
Cheryl Corley

Eric Deggans

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

Eric Deggans
/ Eric Deggans
/
Eric Deggans
Eric Deggans

Ayesha Rascoe

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

Ayesha Rascoe
Allison Shelley / NPR
/
NPR
Ayesha Rascoe

Walter Ray Watson

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh. By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Copyright 2024 NPR

Walter Ray Watson
Kainaz Amaria / NPR
/
NPR
Walter Ray Watson