At the end of his 1999 posthumously published novel “Juneteenth,” noted Black author Ralph Ellison asked a poignant question that seems relevant to today’s federal holiday: “How the hell do we get love into politics or compassion into history?”


As a national holiday, Juneteenth is still trying to balance celebration with compassion.

The end of slavery came at a cost, and as Tufts University history professor Kris Manjapra writes, even that freedom wasn’t all that free.

Emancipation Days, such as the original Juneteenth in Texas, “are not what many people think,” Manjapra writes, “because emancipation did not do what most of us think it did.”

For starters, Juneteenth was not the only Emancipation Day. There were, in fact, 20 separate emancipations in the United States alone, from 1780 to 1865, across the North and South.

But as historians have long documented, Manjapra writes, emancipations did not remove all the shackles that prevented Black people from obtaining full citizenship rights.

On that first Juneteenth in Texas, Black people celebrated their resilience amid America’s failure to deliver that full freedom.

The tradition continues today.

Also today:

Howard Manly

Race + Equity Editor

Emancipation Day celebration, June 19, 1900, held in ‘East Woods’ on East 24th St. in Austin, Texas. Austin History Center

Juneteenth celebrates just one of the United States’ 20 emancipation days – and the history of how emancipated people were kept unfree needs to be remembered, too

Kris Manjapra, Tufts University

Known as Juneteenth in Texas, Emancipation Days symbolized America’s attempt to free the enslaved across the nation. But those days were unable to prevent new forms of economic slavery.

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