On this day, June 19, in 1865, the news caught up to Galveston, Texas, after the end of the American Civil War, that all formerly enslaved people were now free. It was 77 years in the making, since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and while the struggles of black people in America were far from over, they would endure them no longer as slaves.
Enslaving someone--forcing their imprisonment or labor absent the demands of justice--is a mild form of murder. Where murder takes someone's life entirely, all at once, slavery does it a little bit at a time. It's sinful because it encroaches on a person's individual sovereignty, through no doing of their own. Yet, until the nineteenth century, it's a sin which had plagued almost every significant civilization in world history.
How could it be so sinful, yet feature so prominently in human history? Because man is sinful, but by the Grace of God, we were able to overcome this on the world stage.
Anti-slavery sentiment began before the American Revolution, and its emphasis among Enlightenment thinkers significantly influenced the drafting of the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention, and the ratification conventions saw significant debate about slavery, and the right of states to maintain the institution. This is what resulted in the infamous three-fifths compromise, which counts calls for the census to count only three-fifths of each slave.
Contrary to today's popular narrative that the Founding Fathers didn't consider black slaves to be full people, the argument centered not on their worth as people, but on Congressional representation. The more people a state counted during the census, the more representatives that state would have in Congress. It was the abolitionists who argued that slaves shouldn't count at all, while the slave-holders argued slaves should count fully. The greater the voting strength the slave-holding states or the free states had, the more power they would have in the House of Representatives to maintain or end the institution of slavery.
The United States of America would not have been born at all without the agreement of the slave-holding states, and so the three-fifths compromise was struck, and the abolitionists set slowly to work.
The movement gained steam throughout Western Civilization, and while the abolitionists in America were able to halt the spread of slavery, they were unable to end it outright without bloodshed, and abolition ultimately came at the cost of over 360,000 United States soldiers' lives, including free black soldiers.
Without mass media, word of emancipation spread slowly by our standards, but on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger received and read the phenomenal news in our own city of Galveston, Texas. The day became known as Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day.
Juneteenth embodies the promise of America, not because we were, are, or ever will be without sin, but because out of all nations on earth, America gives us the best fighting chance to conquer our sin, bit by bit, and realize Liberty and Justice for All.