We take a break from Eastern Europe to return to the U.S. and celebrate Juneteenth, also known as “Freedom Day.” After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Virginia, it took another 10 weeks for Union soldiers to reach remaining areas of the South to enforce the ending of slavery. The final place was in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865.
The fact that this significant date has never become a Federal holiday, though it has been recognized by 47 states, is a statement itself about how our country has never fully made amends or healed the wounds of its shameful past. It has been a long, slow process that has once again come to full attention worldwide.
That is why we feel that it is fitting and timely to present our performance of “We Shall Walk Through the Valley of Peace,” arranged by acclaimed African-American composer Moses Hogan. The piece was not included in our recent Black Lives Matter series because it was only discovered a few days ago. Those songs were chosen from our concert programs, but this one was an encore, not listed in the program and not found until the 2014 concert was digitized.
Though it is mostly sung at funerals and memorial services, right now it serves as a reminder that we have never fully granted true equality to the African-American population in this country, or allowed them to share in and enjoy the full fruits of what we call the “American Dream.”
If you are like me, a white person who never learned about Juneteenth in school, I would recommend you take some time today to learn more about this period in our nation’s history. I have found it to be much more complex than the simple stories about the war for freedom of the slaves.
For example, here is a brief timeline I’ve put together:
- September 22, 1862 – Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It was very limited – only to those states which were in rebellion against the Union, leaving slavery intact in the border states. It did not go into effect until January 1, 1863.
- April 9, 1865 – Lee surrendered at Appomattox. But this was only the first general and army to do so. It was a turning point in the war, but not the end.
- June 19, 1865 – Union troops arrived in Galveston to free its slaves. However, in some areas, slavery was reinstated after the troops left.
- August 20, 1866, 16 months after Appomattox, President Andrew Johnson declared a formal end to the conflict when Texas finally established a new constitution.