June 19th is Juneteenth, a day set aside to commemorate the day Texas slaves first learned about emancipation, more than two years after President Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation. Union army general Gordon Granger made the announcement in Galveston on June 19, 1865, making Texas the last state to hear the news. Juneteenth is not a widely known celebration but is a crucial piece of the complex series of announcements, documents and events that eventually lead to the passage of the 13th amendment:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
In this 2013 NPR News interview What the Emancipation Proclamation Didn't Do, Lonnie Bunch III, historian, founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African-American History, and current Secretary of the Smithsonian, said the following about remembering the history of emancipation:
"Well, I think that on a very specific notion, I would love people to realize that African-Americans were agents in their own liberty. I think that that's an important piece, rather than simply the notion, if you look at the movie "Lincoln," it seems as if Lincoln freed the slaves, rather than it's part of a complicated nuanced puzzle that led to emancipation.
But, I think the other part that's so important to me about this moment is this is a moment for Americans to remember that you can believe in a change that you can't see. That the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery was something that everybody knew was going to exist forever except for a few fanaticals. But suddenly the Emancipation Proclamation began America on a trajectory that ultimately led to a fundamental change in citizenship and equality. And so what I hope is that people would realize that they have a right to demand and effect change because change is possible in this country."
Today slave narratives are seen as first person stories about one of the darkest times in United States history, but when slave narratives were being published in the 1800s they were a powerful tool used in the fight for their own freedom. Through their stories they were able to contradict the slaveholders’ favorable claims concerning slavery. Through these narratives they could tell the horrors of family separation, the sexual abuse of black women, and the inhuman workload. The narratives told of free blacks being kidnapped and sold into slavery and the tales of escape, heroism, and betrayal. The narratives helped show the humanity of the most dehumanized people in the county. IndyPL_MasadaS
Physical abuse, deprivation and tragedy plagued Frederick Douglass's early years, yet through sheer force of character he was able to overcome these obstacles to become a leading spokesman for his people.
One of many tragic stories of a free black person being tricked and sold into slavery. Northup's memoir was so powerful when it published it sold 27,000 copies in the first two years being printed and translated in French, German, Russian, and Dutch.
William Craft recounts the circumstances under which he and his wife escaped from slavery. His memoir relates incidents that portray the nature of slavery, including its negative effects on slaveholders, white children sold into slavery, and the account of other slaves. Craft offers tales of cruelty to show that "he who has the power, and is inhuman enough to trample upon the sacred rights of the weak, cares nothing for race or colour," suggesting that slavery is a product of sadism and not necessarily racial prejudice. - Documenting the American South