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Juneteenth: America’s second Independence Day

June 18, 2018

'Juneteenth emerged in part to reclaim the central importance of Black history — to put African-Americans back into the story of American history,' says ASU professor

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of the words “June” and “nineteenth,” was born out of what was once referred to as the “peculiar institution” A euphemism for slavery used by white southerners in the 19th century.of the United States.

It references the day 153 years ago this year when a quarter of a million people — still held captive in the years after the Emancipation ProclamationIssued on Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation declared free all people living in slavery in Confederate States that were still in rebellion. — walked away from the fields in which they were forced to toil; out of the houses in which they served under duress; and onto the roads they constructed to begin a new but uncertain future as free men, women and children.

In colloquial expression it has been called America’s “second Independence Day” after the Continental Congress approved the final textAmerica’s independence was formally declared two days earlier on July 2, 1776. of the Declaration of Independence from British rule on July 4, 1776. But for many, particularly those whose ancestry and lineage have been all but scrubbed from the annals of American history due to 250 years of that peculiar institution, Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, has come to represent a true day of independence from slaveholding rule.

Growing in observances and recognition, Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or observance in 45 statesNorth Dakota, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Montana and Hawaii do not recognize Juneteenth, according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.. But it has been a slow journey to awareness — not unlike the protracted process of emancipation, said author and Professor Calvin SchermerhornA historian of slavery, capitalism and African-American literature, Calvin Schermerhorn is the author of several books on related topics including the forthcoming “Unrequited Toil: A History of United States Slavery,” due for publication in 2018. of the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University.

“Juneteenth celebrations were as much about the unfinished work of freedom as about the accomplished fact of slavery’s end,” Schermerhorn said. “Freedom was already and not yet complete since economic and civil rights were slow to follow. Even the soldiers that proclaimed Black Texans free of slavery encouraged them to keep their shoulders to the plow, stay in their places and to accept peace over justice.”

Schermerhorn recently shared more about the history and significance of Juneteenth in this Q&A with ASU Now:

Question: What is Juneteenth, and what is the tradition behind the observance of the day?

Answer: Juneteenth began in 1865 in Texas when some 250,000 formerly enslaved people were officially freed — two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. On June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which read: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” The order went on to assert “an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” Juneteenth, argues one historianRobert C. Conner in his 2013 book “General Gordon Granger: The Savior of Chickamauga and the Man Behind Juneteenth.”, “was a new word signifying a new world.”

African-Americans in Texas turned the day into a celebration of freedom and an occasion to push for equal rights and opportunities. At first, it was specific to Texas but moved with migrating Black Texans all over the United States. Towns like Covert, Michigan, and Tucson, Arizona, were holding Juneteenth celebrations by the early 20th century. Since African-Americans migrating out of Texas tended to go west, the holiday migrated west with them, though by the late 20th century it was popular all over the U.S.

Calvin Schermerhorn

Q: Why was the Emancipation Proclamation not enforced in Texas?

A: The Emancipation Proclamation was a war measure authorizing the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces to liberate enslaved people in states and parts of states in active rebellion against the U.S. on Jan. 1, 1863. It signaled that the Union war effort was now a war against slavery, but it was not enforceable in places outside Union control. Only when Texas as a state of the Confederacy fell to Union forces did emancipation arrive in law, despite the fact that many Black Texans had already freed themselves as a practical matter. Gen. Granger arrived in June 1865 to reassert federal — not Confederate — supremacy and issued the emancipation order. Many, if not most white Texans did not accept the freedom verdict of the Civil War, and Texas did not ratify the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery until 1870, some five years after Congress passed it. Reconstruction-era Texas also saw some of the worst racist violence and murders of African-American people by white militants.

Q: What were some of the immediate challenges for the belatedly freed men and women of Texas after they received the news of their emancipation?

A: Freedom came with no back wages, no land transfer and no other compensation to those who were formerly enslaved. They received nothing but freedom and had to return to work under many circumstances for former owners who still owned land and other means of production. Many formerly enslaved people emerged in freedom on a war-torn landscape of sickness and scarcity. Some who had toiled all their lives were ill and unable to toil on. Others were orphans, injured or dislocated. The Civil War devastated large swaths of the American South, and economic recovery was haltingly slow.

In Texas as in many other areas, former enslavers took a dim view of people of African descent, offering labor contracts that looked a lot like slavery. Those gave way to sharecropping arrangements that put the croppers or tenants in perpetual debt. There were urban Black populations who became middle class, voted and held public office. But despite the heroic struggles of civil rights leaders, African-American political participation and power was fleeting. The height of Black political participation was in the years between when Congress remilitarized the South in 1867 and the panic of 1873, which sapped the political will of federal authorities to combat a militant white supremacist insurgency that took the form of the Ku Klux Klan and other Democratic Party political organizations.

Q: When and how was the first Juneteenth celebrated?

A: It was celebrated first in Austin in 1867, and by 1872 it was a celebration that drew crowds of thousands in parts of Texas. In subsequent years, some localities let prisoners out of jails for the day to join the celebration. In Galveston and elsewhere, women took the lead in celebrating Juneteenth and making it the pretext for political discussions. In 1919, when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) opened a branch in Galveston, women activists used Juneteenth as a date to meet at churches and urge more resources for education for African-American children. By then Juneteenth was so important that even white employers gave Black workers the day off.

It was celebrated with barbecues, parades, floats and speeches, many of which were organized by the Women’s Nineteenth of June Committee in Galveston. It was therefore a day of protest and of celebration as an occasion to mark freedom that was only partly accomplished.

As Texas historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner argues, “No other public event instilled African-Americans with such awareness and historic pride, and perhaps no other event so publicly managed to voice the desire for sexual equality that Black women had been quietly demonstrating in their churches, schools and clubs.”

Q:  It feels like we are at a point in time culturally where Americans are taking a deeper look at history and some of the narratives that have been left out of history books. Where does Juneteenth fall in with those “lost” narratives?  

A: Juneteenth as an African-American celebration of emancipation rose in the late 20th century as a way of reviving earlier Freedom Day celebrations and, more generally, as a way of raising awareness of African-Americans’ struggles against slavery and the racist violence of Jim Crow. It became the pretext for the Poor People’s March on Washington, D.C., in 1968. Until the 1960s — and in many history books much later — Black Americans were marginalized. Historians routinely ignored or downplayed slavery, Jim Crow violence and the racist legacies of both. Instead, a grand patriotic narrative held sway and American history was a triumphal story of white generals, inventors and leaders. We see a version of this process in debates and conflicts over Confederate monuments. Monuments to Confederate leaders and generals were put up as assertions of white supremacy cloaked in a language of local struggles against a distant tyrannical government — the government of Abraham LincolnHistorians, including Schermerhorn, say had the Confederacy won the war, millions of African Americans would have remained enslaved.. That and other such stories distorted or ignored troubled parts of American history.

The same is true of Native Americans, women and many immigrant groups. Juneteenth emerged in part to reclaim the central importance of Black history — to put African-Americans back into the story of American history. It also revived a Black holiday of remembrance. In the post-Civil War nation, Freedom Day celebrations varied from state to state among African-descended Americans who had been enslaved or were members of formerly enslaved families. African-Americans in parts of Virginia, for instance, celebrated Surrender Day on April 9, the day when the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee surrendered. Whenever it was celebrated, the day usually coincided with an event signaling Black freedom. But such celebrations fell off in the early 20th century, and they were revived generations later. Juneteenth became an official holiday in Texas in 1980, and proclamations in other states and locales have broadened it to a holiday commemorating emancipation and promoting respect and dignity of all peoples in freedom struggles.

Top Photo: "Emancipation" by Thomas Nast. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

For more on the cultural significance of Juneteenth: Read our Q&A with Associate Professor Duku Anokye of the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies at ASU's New College.

Emancipation Proclamation, author Abraham Lincoln. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana

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Arizona named an anti-vaccine hot spot

June 18, 2018

ASU College of Health Solutions' Alexandra Bhatti talks about why parents might seek exemption, how states differ and what the risks are to the community

A recent study named Arizona one of several “hot spots” in the nation for higher-than-average rates of nonmedical vaccination exemptions. According to the study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, Arizona has seen an increase in the number of parents seeking vaccination exemptions for their children for religious or philosophical reasons.

According to the study, for the 2016-17 school year, Maricopa County issued 2,947 nonmedical exemptions, the most of any metropolitan area in the country. The next highest number of nonmedical exemptions — 956 — were issued in Salt Lake County in Utah.

To better understand how vaccination exemptions are granted and what these findings mean for Arizona’s public health, ASU Now spoke with Alexandra Bhatti, faculty associate in Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions.

Question: How do school vaccination laws vary from state to state? How are exemptions obtained?

Alexandra Bhatti

Answer: Each state establishes laws governing vaccination requirements for child care and schoolchildren. One could say, if you have seen one state’s school vaccination laws, then you have seen one state’s school vaccinations laws. No two are identical. Most states adhere to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for determining age, dosage and types of vaccines required.

State laws include exemptions to school vaccination requirements for religious or philosophical reasons, commonly referred to as “nonmedical exemptions.” While all states allow medical exemptions, fewer allow personal-belief or religious exemptions. The ease in which exemptions may be attained varies from state to state. Some require only parental signature, whereas others require a parent to complete a vaccination education module before obtaining a nonmedical exemption.

In addition to vaccination exemptions, students may still attend school without meeting vaccination requirements through a grace period or provisional enrollment. Provisional-enrollment laws allow students to attend school without complete vaccinations if they can show they are in the process of obtaining them. Grace-period laws allow students to attend school for a defined period of time without having to show that they are in the process of being vaccinated or exempted. In Arizona, however, no grace period is offered and students must show either proof of vaccination or an exemption in order to attend school.

State vaccination laws are important for maintaining high vaccination rates, and in turn, lowering the rates of vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs). Vaccination requirements that have more conditions for receiving a nonmedical exemption, that require parental documentation of exemption requests and that are implemented with strong enforcement and monitoring may help promote higher rates of vaccination coverage and, in turn, lower rates of VPDs in the community.

Q: What are the risks associated with having a growing number of residents who are not vaccinated?

A: We can expect more outbreaks like the Disneyland measles outbreak in 2014 to 2015.

Before the middle of the last century, diseases like whooping cough, polio, measles, Haemophilus influenzae and rubella struck hundreds of thousands of infants, children and adults in the United States. Thousands died every year from them. As vaccines were developed and became widely used, rates of these diseases declined.

Vaccination is very much a community matter. When someone gets vaccinated, not only are they protecting themselves, but also their community — particularly those who are unable to be vaccinated due to age or health conditions.

Most vaccine-preventable diseases are transmitted person-to-person. In a population where most people are vaccinated, they create — in essence — a buffer, preventing the infected from infecting the vulnerable, unvaccinated population. This is called community immunity. As coverage rates decline, community immunity is further compromised, putting those who are unvaccinated at risk of contracting a disease.

Q: What are some of the reasons a person might seek an exemption?

A: It is important to note that the majority of parents do choose to vaccinate their children. For example, in the 2016-2017 school year, measles, mumps and rubella vaccination rates for kindergarteners in Arizona was 94 percent.

There are many reasons why a parent or guardian might seek a nonmedical vaccination exemption for their child. Some may choose to exempt their child because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. I personally know parents who, in an effort to speed up the school enrollment process, signed an exemption form because it was the quickest way to get their child enrolled. With no grace period in Arizona, it may be that the child is on their way to receiving the required vaccines, or already has them, but the parents don’t have the vaccinations records and need more time to complete the process so they opt for the most convenient choice, that being an exemption.

There are also parents that choose to exempt their child due to concerns over vaccine safety or necessity. There is a lot of information out there about vaccinations and vaccination safety, and not all of it is accurate. Unfortunately for parents, it is sometimes hard to determine what to believe. Fortunately, there are some great resources online:

The contents within this Q&A reflect the opinions of only Alexandra Bhatti and do not represent Arizona State University or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Top photo courtesy of

Katherine Reedy

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