Deeper Reading: Reconstruction

Although the Emancipation Proclamation resulting from the 13th Constitutional amendment was declared in 1863, freedom for enslaved Blacks in Confederate states did not fully come until June 19, 1865. It was on June 19 of that year that Major General Gordon Granger and his troops landed at Galveston, Texas, where they announced – and enforced – President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had officially taken effect two and a half years earlier.

Find out more about the history and evolution of this celebration at Juneteenth.com. It is known as Juneteenth, Day of Jubilee, Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day. The other freedom celebration held around the U.S. is the Fourth of July.


Reconstruction Efforts Then

By 1880, black workers earned 34 cents for every dollar white workers earned nationally. During the First World War, African Americans were drafted disproportionately to serve in uniform. Wartime manufacturers also recruited black workers to cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia to make war materiel. But instead of welcoming refugees from Southern poverty and discrimination, the first wave of what became the Great Migration was met with violence. African American migrants seizing economic opportunity were crowded into rundown housing, paying high rents and ruinous interest rates on consumer credit. Better-paying unionized jobs were reserved for whites.

At their peak in 1910, African American farmers made up around 14 percent of all U.S. farmers, owning 16 to 19 million acres of land. By 2012, black Americans represented just 1.6 percent of the farming community, owning 3.6 million acres of land. Another study shows a 98 percent decline in black farmers between 1920, and 1997. This contrasts sharply with an increase in acres owned by white farmers over the same period.

In a 1998 report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ascribed this decline to a long and “well-documented” history of discrimination against black farmers, ranging from New Deal and USDA discriminatory practices dating from the 1930s to 1950s-era exclusion from legal, title and loan resources.

In an essay for Jacobin Magazine titled “Killing Reconstruction,” Heather Cox Richardson wrote: “Reconstruction failed not because Southern whites opposed it — although most of them did — but because Northerners abandoned it. They came to believe that antebellum slaveholders were right in one important way: they had warned that poor workers must not be allowed to vote because, given the chance, they would insist on a redistribution of wealth.

“Northerners in 1861 began a four-year crusade to remake the American government so that wealthy men would not dominate it. They poured out their blood and sacrificed their brothers for that cause. Ten years later, that course would be reversed. America depended not on human equality, they came to think, but rather on what slaveholders had always said: the protection of property. … The political events of Reconstruction established in the American mind — both among antislavery Northerners and reactionary Southerners — the idea that an active government redistributes wealth from hardworking white people to lazy African Americans. It has shaped modern day America.”


Reconstruction Efforts Now

Urban Patch is a nonprofit group that uses crowdsourced funding to build community spaces in inner city areas of Indianapolis and encourage collective economic development that echoes the black commons of years past.

MSP magazine, June 2020 — In 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a legal state holiday. State representative Richard Jefferson proposed that the legislature make Minnesota the fourth state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday in 1996. As more states followed suit in the decades after, today all but three recognize the holiday. Although Minnesota has recognized Juneteenth has a holiday since 1996, the day is not an observed state holiday with paid time off or increased pay. Governor Tim Walz proclaimed June 19 as ‘Juneteenth Freedom Day’ and urged the Legislature to make the day an annual state holiday.

WCCO, May 12, 2021— The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a city holiday.

Activists are campaigning for the United States Congress to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday. Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states that do not recognize Juneteenth, according to the Congressional Research Service.


BookShelf: Deeper Reading

  • “Sparked: George Floyd, Racism, and the Progressive Illusion,” reflections on racism in Minnesota, as told by former and current residents of the state
  • “These Truths: A History of the United States,” by Jill Lepore
  • “How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America,” by Heather Cox Richardson
  • “Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women,” by Susan Burton
  • “The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity,” by Nadine Burke Harris

BookShelf is underwritten by Birchbark Books: Good books, Native arts, jewelry, and community events. birchbarkbooks.com