Juneteenth: Then and Now

On January 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, United States President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves in Confederate states.

This proclamation only applied to enslaved people in the rebellion states. The bordering states were not required to end slavery

Contrary to popular belief, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t end American slavery, nor was it ever intended to do so.

  • In the South, this proclamation was intended as both reward and punishment: If a seceded state chose to return to the Union before January 1, it would not have to make slavery illegal.
  • If the state refused to return before that date, then on that date its enslaved people would be declared free.

No states chose to return.  and the incentive proved to be a failure.

During this time, southern slaveholders didn’t follow Lincoln’s orders, and the enslaved people who were liberated by the Emancipation Proclamation became free by force—either by self-liberation or by intervention from Union forces.

The proclamation’s limitations became especially clear on June 19, 1865—when enslaved people in Texas learned of it for the first time, almost two and a half years after it was issued.

By then, the Civil War had come to an end and the Thirteenth Amendment was introduced, abolishing slavery everywhere in the United States.

News in the 19th century certainly traveled slowly and was unreliable. But even with that limitation, historians wonder how the proclamation was kept from enslaved Texans for almost two and a half years. Convenience and economics may well have been valued over the lives of the people whose freedom was at stake.

What is known for certain is how the news was, eventually, delivered. On June 19, 1865, with a fleet of 2,000 Union troops in Galveston Texas. Since 1866, that day’s anniversary—known as Juneteenth, a combination of June and nineteenth—has been celebrated as the symbolic end of American slavery.

Although freedom was only an idea not to be realized in the United States. Over time, many laws and policies for equality have been written but not realized, giving birth to structural racism. 

We’ve seen the impact of that division in our own work. Recognizing that Indianapolis Black communities were not receiving life-saving naloxone. Overdose Lifeline Inc. set out to find a solution and launched our MACRO-B program.

We are a group of representatives from multiple sectors who are researching ways to address the opioid epidemic and structural racism around overdose response in the Black communities of Indianapolis. This research is being conducted by the Indiana University School of Public Health and Overdose Lifeline and is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

We are gathering information about the zip codes 46202, 46205, 46208, 46218 to see what neighborhood conditions, policies, and practices are contributing to a higher rate of overdose deaths in Black/African Americans than in White people. With this information, we hope to create solutions with the goal of preventing overdoses and overdose deaths in the Black community. Multi-Sector and Multi-Level Community-Driven Approaches to Remove Structural Racism and Overdose Deaths in Black Indianapolis Communities (MACRO-B)


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