“It is true we have the Proclamation of January 1863. It was a vast and glorious step in the right direction. But unhappily, excellent as that paper is—and much as it has accomplished temporarily—it settles nothing. It is still open to decision by courts, canons and Congresses.”
– Frederick Douglass “The Mission of War” (1864)
On June 18th, 1865, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with 2,000 federal troops. He came to Texas with general orders to end slavery in the state, which was made illegal nearly two and a half years earlier thanks to the Emancipation Proclamation. Texas’ distance from Union territory, however, had made the Emancipation Proclamation nearly impossible to enforce, and the state became a destination for fleeing confederates who wanted to continue to profit by enslaving African Americans.
Granger’s arrival in Texas is today observed as Junetheenth, a day when Black communities celebrate the eradication of slavery the United States. That Juneteenth occurred two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, but six months before the 13th Amendment abolished slavery gives an idea of how wildly variable the process of emancipation and structural reconstruction were in the United States. As Abolitionist Frederick Douglass recognized in 1864, the legal rights freedpeople attained during and after the Civil War were only as good as Congress’s and the court’s ability to enforce them.
The very existence of Juneteenth is a testament to the fact that the period immediately following the Civil War, Reconstruction (1865-1877), was an era of extreme violence, terror and disruption for African Americans living in Confederate states. Yet, the music that forms the backbone of American popular music– blues, work songs and spirituals– survived and continued to develop during these years.
In celebration of Juneteenth – and in acknowledgement of the ongoing struggle to address the injustices upon which this nation was founded continues to this day- this week TeachRock is featuring the Almost Emancipated collection from our Music that Shaped America series. This collection includes two history lessons and a new Distance Learning Pack collection that introduces the Civil War and Reconstruction from the perspective of freedpeople.
The study of Juneteenth and Reconstruction offers an opportunity to learn a people’s history of this complex period. Like the music of the time, the ongoing observation of Juneteenth has become a communal living archive of Black history that still exists today.
Introduce yourself to history that you may have never been taught– I certainly did not learn any of this history while attending a specialized high school in New York City. I would argue that there is no moment in American History that speaks to our present more acutely than Reconstruction. The intersections of access, citizenship, power, class, and race are centered in the daily news of state-sponsored violence, protests, voter suppression, and the preponderance of Coronavirus deaths in poor communities and amongst people of color. Together with your students, you may discover that the biggest questions we face as a society and as a species are echoes of the hurdles that faced Americans during Reconstruction.
-Imani Wilson and the TeachRock Team
Almost Emancipated: The Civil War and the Port Royal Experiment (High School) – Discover the historical significance and cultural uniqueness of Port Royal and the Sea Islands in this Civil War lesson.
Almost Emancipated: Reconstruction (High School) – By analyzing music and historic documents, consider a freedperson’s experience during Reconstruction, and consider why the period was one of the most significant eras in American history.
Lost Friends (Middle & High School) – Extracted from the larger Almost Emancipated: Reconstruction lesson, this Distance Learning Pack focuses on free people’s search for friends and relatives during Reconstruction.
Rhythm as Representation of People and Place (All Ages) – Featuring Beyoncé and Santana, trace the ways in which the Transatlantic Slave Trade helped define the future of U.S. and Cuban popular music.