Reconstruction 1865 – 1876: Emancipation, Jubilee/Juneteenth Celebration Faced Violent Backlash

Updated: Aug 9, 2021


I am writing about Reconstruction on Juneteenth, 2020, a time for celebrating the announcement of emancipation; also known as Jubilee day, echoing the Old Testament’s day when slaves are freed, debts are forgiven, and land restored; the day when the first shall be last and the last shall be first. This year, Juneteenth has dawned amidst unprecedentedly broad “Black Lives Matter” protests across the United States and the world against racial injustice; protests responding to police violence and systemic injustice. The immediate triggers are the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, Ahmoud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia and Rashard Brooks in Atlanta, Georgia. But these recent deaths are the tip of an iceberg. Detroit muralist Sydney G. James’s recently created a memorial to more than 1000 Brown and Black victims of police violence. (Progressive police people are also engaged in advocating for reform.) An unmistakable lesson is that emancipation from racism to freedom may include big steps but in the long run it is a process rather than a moment in time. The resilience of Afro-Americans from slavery to subsequent challenges of political and economic oppression is remarkable and cause for annual Juneteenth celebrations. As a society we are still creating and actualizing hope; but also, we are still overcoming the legacy of racist ideologies, institutionalized injustices and violence stemming from the eras of slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow segregation.


Juneteenth is an extraordinary celebration marking the announcement of slavery ending, the launching of ongoing struggle for full freedom of opportunity and the joyous celebration of Black culture’s many ways of expressing enthusiasm for life. Music, dancing and exuberant speech are highlighted on Juneteenth, but they are also integral to daily Black culture, unrepressed by racist obstacles. It’s Goose Tatum and the Harlem Globetrotters establishing a legacy of joy as a component in the way basketball is now played, Jackie Robinson, bringing dance into stealing bases, Paul Robeson, showing a trajectory from all American and NFL football to singing a 1938 “Ballad for Americans,” to unite ethnic Americans plus left and right political camps to fight the fascism of Mussolini, Hitler, and Jim Crow; Harriet Tubman, storied leader of the Underground Railroad, speaking to a women’s suffrage group, “I’m the only conductor who can say that my train never ran off the tracks and I never lost a passenger.” The Robeson home where Paul grew up was a center of music for runaway slave relatives and neighbors where music overcame sorrow with joy.


“There was a warmth of songs of love and longing, songs of trials and triumphs, deep-flowing rivers and rollicking brooks, hymn-song and ragtime ballad, gospels and blues, and the healing comfort to be found in the illimitable sorrow of the Spirituals.”[i]


Voices from three modern celebrants will close off these comments on how Juneteenth marks the ever re-emerging of exuberant Black culture, resilient to suffering and oppression. Selected spokeswomen are Maya Angelou, Dionne Warwick and Michelle Obama.


1) Maya Angelou, poet, writer, civil rights activist and more –

excerpts from her poem, “On the Pulse of the Morning,” read at the first inauguration of Bill Clinton as president.


You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru,

bought, sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare

praying for a dream.

Here root yourselves beside me.

I am the tree planted by the river,

which will not be moved.

I the rock, I the river, I the tree

I am yours – your passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need

For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,

Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,

Need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon

The day breaking for you.

Give birth again

To the dream. …

Lift up your hearts.

Each new hour holds new chances

for new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally,

To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space to place new steps of change.

Here, on the pulse of this fine day

You may have the courage

To look up and call upon me,

The rock, the river, the tree, your country. …

Here on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes,

Into your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope

Good morning.


2) Dionne Warwick, a voice of soul music, actress, a six-time Grammy award winner, United Nations Global Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization and United States Ambassador of Health.


Dionne Warwick sings “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”

(BJ Thomas, lyrics)

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head …

Oh I just did me some talkin’ to the sun.

Sleepin’ on the job,

Those raindrops are fallin’

But there’s one thing, I know:

The blues they send to meet me, won’t defeat me.

It won’t be long ‘till happiness steps up to greet me

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head, but that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turnin’ red.

Cryin’s not for me, ‘cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complainin’

Cause I’m free, nothing is worrying me


3) Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama opens Black culture to inclusiveness,


“You see, our glorious diversity – our diversity of faiths, and colors and creeds – that is not a threat to who we are, it makes us who we are.”


Emancipation Is a Process Emerging from Violence


Juneteenth, Jubilee Day is not only a celebration of the overcoming of slavery and oppression, it is also a remembering of the violence from which emancipation is emerging. The New York Times, on June 16, 2020 highlighted the recent study by The Equal Justice Initiative, (EJI), a 31-year-old legal advocacy group based in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to exposing the country’s legacy of lynching and White Supremacist terror.[ii] That study, “Reconstruction in America,” documents that for many, Black Lives did not Matter, and that over 2000 documented Black people were lynched during Reconstruction (1865 to 1877). However, the estimated total of racial terror lynchings during Reconstruction is nearly three times greater than that documented by the EJI. Dozens of mass lynchings took place during Reconstruction in communities across the country in which hundreds of Black people were killed.[iii]


In an earlier report, published in 2015, the EJI documented more than 4400 lynchings of Black people by Whites in the 74 years following Reconstruction. The names of the victims were etched in stone and brought together in the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. Since opening in 2018, the memorial has drawn 750,000 visitors (an indicator of hope for awareness that will bring increasing justice).[iv]


In addition to the victims of lynching, thousands more were assaulted, raped, or injured in racial terror attacks between 1865 and 1876. Nevertheless, after two and a half centuries of brutal enslavement, Black Americans had great hope that emancipation would finally mean freedom and opportunity. Most formerly enslaved people were remarkably willing to live peacefully with those who had held them in bondage despite the violence they had suffered and the degradation they had endured.[v]


Former slaves embraced education, hard work, faith, and citizenship with extraordinary enthusiasm and devotion. By 1868, over 80 percent of Black men who were eligible to vote had registered, schools for Black children became a priority, and courageous Black leaders overcame enormous obstacles to win elections to public office.[vi]


The new era of Reconstruction offered great promise and could have radically changed the history of this country. However, the commitment to abolish slavery was not accompanied by a commitment to equal rights or equal protection. The hope of Reconstruction, though it could not be killed, was confronted with a nightmare of unparalleled violence and oppression.[vii]


Updating this post in 2021: It is self-evident that racism continues to put up barriers and leave its oppressive, sometimes lethally violent marks. But more powerful are the achievements of Black people and the gifts of Black culture. Implicitly, they make Juneteenth an everyday celebration. The civil rights movement continues to be empowered toward full freedom!



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[i] Robeson, Paul. Here I Stand. Beacon Press. Kindle ion. [ii] Campbell Robertson, New York Times.com; 6/16/2020. [iii] Ibid. [iv]Reconstruction in America, Equal Justice Initiative, Montgomery, Alabama, 2020 [v] Ibid. [vi]. Ibid. [vii] Ibid

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