Two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued ordering states in the confederacy to release their slaves, Black people in Texas achieved their liberation from chattel bondage. On June 19,1865, General Order Number 3 was read from the Ashton Villa balcony in Galveston, Texas, that demanded that slaveholders free their slaves. That day has become an annual occasion for celebration, reflection, and education about the meaning of freedom and the on-going, universal struggle for liberation from domination.
These questions about the real meaning of freedom are more relevant to the work of abolitionists and those working against the prison industrial complex (PIC) than ever.
Today we struggle with how to stem and reverse the growth of imprisonment
, and policing
. We struggle with questions of how to re-constitute the bonds of friendships, families, and communities that have been decimated by white supremacy, economic exploitation, and political repression. Politicians pass bills then repeal them based on budgets, corrupt inside deals, and corporate influence. But when people are organized and determined to fight for and defend their freedom, we can win. In our current work fighting against the construction and expansion of jails and prisons in California and New Orleans
, we consistently find that the most durable victories against the PIC take place when the people are active participants in their own liberation. The same resolve that fueled the abolitionists in the state 150 years ago still lives today.
While the history of slave revolt in Texas is less well known, it is why we celebrate Juneteenth today. According to historian James M. Smallwood, “gangs of runaway slaves participated with Indians and Mexicans in a guerrilla-like warfare” against the planter class throughout the 1830’s. Resistance to slavery in Texas included everything from thousands of slave escapees fleeing into Mexico to freedom, to work slowdowns and refusals to submit to the enslavers. This record of resistance counters the popular narrative of a passive Black slave population in Texas that was freed by 2,000 heroic and benevolent Union soldiers on June 19, 1865.
Today Juneteenth is recognized as a holiday or day of observance in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Each year the day reminds us of the role that resistance plays in liberation- political, economic, and personal. It is this tradition and struggle that we will celebrate on June 19 this year.
Roger White, Campaign Director, Critical Resistance