Why June 19, 1865 is important as part of the most significant event in African-American history

I’d like to explain the context of 1865, the most important year in African-American history from my book Road to Ratification: How 27 States Tackled the Most Challenging Issue in American History.

John William Templeton re-enacts Rev. Henry Highland Garnet July 5-7 in Washington, D.C., July 12-14 in New York City and July 19-21 in Philadelphia with a fourth summer institute Aug. 7-9 in Miami.

The Civil War took place concurrently with the French-Mexican War of 1861-67, with cotton at the root of both. Had the French succeeded in occupying Mexico, they would have joined forces with the Confederates to ship cotton directly to European factories and spread slavery into Mexico, where it had been abolished for centuries.
The Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 (Cinco de Mayo) derailed those plans and set the stage for a deal between California interests for the Pacific Railroads Act, which had been opposed by Radical Republicans in New England, and the Emancipation Proclamation, which the New Englanders wanted. The Proclamation was based on Jesup’s Proclamation in 1839, which granted freedom to Black Seminoles after the Seminole War.
John Horse, the leader of the Black Seminoles, led his people to Mexico, where he became a colonel in the Mexican Army.
Lincoln, who had rescinded John Fremont’s emancipation proclamation in 1861, was playing sleight of hand because he knew that the Supreme Court had overturned Jesup’s Proclamation. However, the Proclamation did have the effect of allowing African-Americans to volunteer for the Union Army.
225,000 blacks volunteered, turning the tide of battle and changing the sentiment of Northern whites who had lynched 1,200 during the Anti-Draft Riots in New York City.
Lincoln realized that the movement of blacks toward Union lines eroded the ability of the South to produce cotton for export to Europe so he pressed for the passage of the 13th Amendment, the first constitutional amendment in 60 years in 1864. It was defeated, but in the lame duck session, he got defeated Democrats to change their votes and got passage on Jan. 31. I do the reenactment of the Feb. 12 speech in Congress that was the memorial sermon for the 13th Amendment by Rev. Henry Highland Garnet. https://vimeo.com/205890123
23 states ratified the Amendment by June, but it would take the capture of the Deep South states by Union forces to achieve the last four needed. The capture of Texas on June 19 was the last state to fall, closing off hopes by Confederates that they could align with the French forces still in Mexico.
The 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry, the first black volunteer unit in the Union Army, from Missouri, had been in Texas since 1864 and fought in the last engagement in May 1865.
To end resistance, Gen. U.S. Grant gave the honor to the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry, a Connecticut volunteer regiment which had been the first to break the siege of Petersburg, the first to enter the Confederate capital of Richmond and cut off Lee’s route of escape at Appomattox Court House. They sailed to Galveston and helped quell remaining guerrilla attacks from Confederates.
Also in 1864, John Horse and his Black Seminoles had returned from Mexico and joined the Union Army to provide knowledge of the landscape in Texas. They were named the Black Seminole Scouts. So the story of Juneteenth is one of victory by freedmen over those who had kept them in bondage for 250 years.
There was no lack of knowledge of the Emancipation Proclamation, just stubbornness by Confederates who thought Texas could go independent again. Once Texas fell, Mexico was able to expel the French by 1867.
The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t end slavery for anyone. Lincoln merely changed the rationale for the war from restoring access to cotton to ending slavery. It was the ratification of the 13th Amendment by the Georgia legislature on Dec. 6, 1865 which ended slavery.
Appomattox Court House was seized upon as an end to the war because Robert E. Lee was pardoned and treated with military honors by Gen. Grant. By contrast, Lee had been in charge of the troops which captured John Brown at Harpers Ferry. Brown was tried for treason and executed. Lee, two years later, turned down Lincoln’s request to lead the U.S. Army, broke his oath and caused the death of two million in the world’s most deadly civil war. But he was not tried for treason or punished in any way.
However, it is important to point out that the Confederacy lost, and from Appomattox to Texas, lost at the hands of U.S. Colored Troops, who would then be entrusted with the duty of garrisoning the West as Buffalo Soldiers because of their distinction during the Civil War.
John William Templeton contributed African-Americans in the West to the Oxford Encyclopedia of African-American History and presents the California African-American Freedom Trail Aug. 5 with Rick Moss and Susan Anderson at the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association at CSU-Northridge. He is featured Sunday, June 18 at 4 p.m. in Gina’s Journey: the search for William Grimes during the S.F. Black Film Festival in the Burial Clay Theatre of the African-American Art & Culture Complex.


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