(STL.News) – Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband issued the following statement today regarding Juneteenth:
“On June 19, 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation was first announced to enslaved African-Americans in Texas. On that day, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War was over and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became the official policy of the United States on January 1, 1863.
“Today, “Juneteenth” has become a day to recognize the abolition of slavery and the continuing work to promote racial equality for all Americans.
“When President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, it had little impact on Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce it. For over two years, 250,000 men, women, and children remained enslaved in Texas. When Confederate forces surrendered in April of 1865, and Union soldiers led by General Granger arrived in Texas, the Union army overcame the resistance.
“After General Granger arrived in Texas, he issued General Order Number 3. It began:
“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
“The Juneteenth announcement in Texas sparked joyous celebrations of freedom that have grown in communities across our nation for the past 155 years. Today, forty-seven states and the District of Columbia officially commemorate Juneteenth.
“But even after the Juneteenth announcement, a regime of racial violence, intimidation, abuses of authority under color of law, and the use of debts, threats, and assaults held many of the ostensibly freed citizens in conditions of inequality.
“While Juneteenth is a joyous celebration of emancipation from enslavement, it also serves as a solemn reminder that words alone cannot deliver on the promises of freedom, individual rights, and equal justice for all. It is a reminder that, although our nation has come a long way from our history of state-sanctioned slavery and segregation, our work remains unfinished.
“It would be another century before the civil rights movement – in the second wave of Reconstruction – resulted in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That long overdue legislation was the result of courageous citizens who spoke out against injustice, made their voices heard, and propelled our nation toward a more complete embrace of freedom and equality.
“In the decades since 1964, the Civil Rights Division has served on the front lines of enforcing laws against racial injustice and deprivations of individual rights. It has been steadfast in its commitment to vindicating the rights of individuals who have suffered discrimination and holding perpetrators accountable for the violations they commit.
“This year, Juneteenth affords us an opportunity for somber reflection on our past and future as we continue to work for the realization of the promise of equal rights under the law for all African Americans, so celebrated at the first Juneteenth. The Civil Rights Division will continue to vigorously enforce the laws that protect the rights, lives, and freedoms guaranteed to all individuals under the law.
“Yet, Juneteenth also serves as a reminder of the grief and anguish our nation has experienced over the lives lost and the dreams destroyed by acts of racially-motived violence, abuses of power, and injustice.
“Just five years ago, as Juneteenth approached, our nation was reeling from the horrific act of racial violence that took the lives of nine worshippers at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. The Department of Justice convicted and obtained the ultimate penalty against the perpetrator.
“This Juneteenth, we recognize the progress our country has made, and the work that remains unfinished. We pledge to continue to deliver, to all Americans regardless of race, on the promises of freedom and equal justice under the law enshrined in the Constitution and laws of the United States.”