A Wednesday puzzler posed to 12 people in or near Marion Square: What was the historic significance of the date June 19?
None of them knew.
The correct-answer rate would rise sharply if you asked that question two weeks from today — on July 4.
Both dates mark profoundly liberating occasions.
And enlightening your sense of history can be a liberating experience for folks stuck in tired old grudges.
Back to Wednesday’s stumper to that diverse dozen:
On June 19, 1865, U.S. Gen. Gordon Granger read this “General Order No. 3” in Galveston: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
That belated revelation of the Civil War’s end planted the seed for an annual “Juneteenth” celebration that eventually grew past the Lone Star State’s borders. It’s now officially recognized in some form in 42 states, including ours. Among the festivities here will be a Juneteenth Freedom Festival, with aptly free admission, at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Jenkins Institute for Children, formerly Jenkins Orphanage, at 3923 Azalea Drive in North Charleston. Among the attractions: music, raffles, storytellers and a jump castle.
That first Juneteenth proclamation in Galveston came 71 days after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered in Virginia, 17 days after Gen. Kirby Smith surrendered outside Galveston Bay, and four days before Gen. Stand Watie, the Cherokee chief who commanded the Confederate Indian forces, surrendered in what is now Choctaw County, Okla.
Never sound retreat
Yet 148 years later, some Southerners still are sore War of Northern Aggression losers. They know that while Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address pitch was to save “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” he accomplished that nation-defining mission by waging America’s deadliest war to conquer the people of the South.
OK, so he conquered the white people of the South while freeing the black people.
Still, with the sesquicentennials of Gettysburg and Vicksburg looming, residual rebels are again lamenting those epic turning points.
And if you’re old enough to remember how Charleston handled the centennial of the April 12, 1861, Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter, you’ll recall that it was a joyful celebration, not a somber commemoration. It also carried ugly overtones of persisting Southern resistance to desegregation on April 12, 1961.
Mitigating personal circumstance: This Stonewall Jackson fan was only 7 years old.
Times and attitudes changed for the better. Most white Southerners learned to quit glossing over this originating sin of the Confederacy: It was created, in large part, to perpetuate slavery. We also learned to scrap a bigoted system that deprived black people of equal rights for a century after slavery’s demise.
An enduring word
That enhanced perspective on Charleston’s past doesn’t mean we should remove the Marion Square statues of John C. Calhoun, who died 11 years before the Civil War but was slavery’s most effective defender, and Wade Hampton, a Confederate cavalry commander who later became S.C. governor.
And it certainly doesn’t mean we have to remove a valuable word from our Southern — our American — vocabulary. An overwrought letter to the editor recently condemned the “smarmy use of the term ‘Yankee’ ” by my esteemed colleague Brian Hicks (born and bred in Tennessee) as “egregious.” He proposed that this newspaper ban “Yankee” from our pages, along with “numerous racial, ethnic and religious code words your manual absolutely forbids.”
So if you can’t call a Yankee a Yankee, what can you call him — or her? Lots of us Charleston natives root for the New York Yankees — and their Charleston RiverDogs farm team. Some of us sing along with the rousing Richard Adler-Jerry Ross 1955 Broadway musical “Damn Yankees” — especially (You’ve Gotta Have) “Heart.”
So a day late, happy Juneteenth to all — and good luck on elevating your sense of history. Even Yankees.
But if you think you can get us to stop saying “Yankee,” you’re fighting a Lost Cause of your own.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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