Tuesday, June 19, is "Juneteenth," a relatively little-known holiday in approximately 45 of the 50 states, and the District of Columbia.
In June 2011, when I first wrote about the importance of Juneteenth and advocated that Maryland recognize 'Juneteenth Independence Day,' only 38 states observed the holiday. Today, according to some recent research, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Dakota still do not recognize the "19th of June."
In 2014, Maryland became the 43rd state to officially recognize Juneteenth. That year, Delegate Melvin Stukes D-44, Baltimore City, introduced HB 549, "An Act concerning State Government — Commemorative Days — Juneteenth National Freedom" requiring the governor "annually to proclaim a certain day as Juneteenth National Freedom Day" in Maryland.
The bill passed both houses in the General Assembly unanimously and Gov. Martin O'Malley signed it into law on May 15, 2014. The law took effect on June 1, 2014. However a recent check with the Maryland Manual Online, does not list June 19 as a Maryland legal holiday.
The origin of Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865, as the day when freedom was granted to more than 250,000 slaves. On June 18, 1865 Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with 2,000 federal troops. This was two months after the war had essentially ended with surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House.
This was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862. The proclamation carried an effective date of Jan. 1, 1863. However, the proclamation had little real impact in the Confederates States during the balance of the war — and freed few, if any, slaves.
It is well accepted by historians that on June 19, 1865, Granger stood upon the balcony of the Ashton Villa in Galveston and read the contents of "General Order No. 3," which put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation throughout Texas.
Meanwhile, Maryland had emancipated its enslaved population the year before, on Oct. 13, 1864, upon the ratification of the Maryland Constitution of 1864. For context, in 1840 the population of Carroll County was 17,421. In 1837 there were 1,044 slaves living in the county. According to Nancy Warner's "Carroll County Maryland – A History 1837-1976," there was even a value of $220,400 placed on the aggregate number of slaves in Carroll County.
In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth. I first learned of Juneteenth doing civil rights work in the south in the 1971-1973 time period. In 1980, I submitted an op-ed about the history of Juneteenth and why Maryland ought to recognize the day, to a local newspaper.
My submitted article explained that Maryland, of all places — the home of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman — ought to be the second state in the union to recognize the momentous events of June 19, 1865. In response, a representative of the newspaper called me and unceremoniously suggested that I had made it all up. My article never ran.
At the time, I suggested that Douglass' historic July 5, 1852 speech, "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro," delivered at Rochester New York's Corinthian Hall, be a required reading of the day. At the time, Douglass was the editor of a leading newspaper that advocated abolishing slavery, "The North Star." Over 500 folks paid 12 1/2 cents each to hear him speak.
The working title of my rejected 1980 essay came from a passage in Douglass' speech, "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." This, of course, comes from Act 3, Scene 2, of Shakespeare's 1599 play about Roman history, "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar."
It is a little known fact that the famed national leader and orator Douglass spoke at the Odd Fellow's Hall in Westminster on Oct. 13, 1870. He is credited with several of my favorite quotes. Paraphrasing, he is one of several individuals who is credited with saying leadership is the art of doing the right thing when no one is looking and that the proper use of power is to help others.