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William Blair explains the origins of Juneteenth and the tradition of Emancipation Day celebrations throughout the United States

Today, the UNC Press blog explains the origins of Juneteenth and the tradition of Emancipation Day celebrations throughout the United States with contributions from William A. Blair, author of Cities of the Dead and With Malice toward Some and editor of Lincoln’s Proclamation


What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, given by President Abraham Lincoln, that declared freedom for all slaves in states still in rebellion. Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation following the Battle of Antietam on September 22, 1862, as a warning to the Confederacy, and the official order went into effect on January 1, 1863.  

Why June 19?

There are several dates that could celebrate the Emancipation, such as January 1 or September 22 or even February 1 (National Freedom Day,) but Juneteenth has become the most popular. June 19, 1865, commemorates the day when slaves in the Galveston, Texas, area heard a proclamation of freedom read by Union General Granger. 

When did other regions celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation?

Celebrations often occurred around when black people in a particular region won their liberation. These were often tied either to the appearance of the Union army or the defeat of the Confederate military. For example, Richmond residents marked April 3 when Lee’s army fled the capital, while others preferred April 9, when that army surrendered at Appomattox. Beginning with the issuing of the proclamation in 1863, African Americans in the Union-occupied Sea Islands near South Carolina and Georgia gathered in ceremonial events to mark what they hoped was the destruction of slavery. 

Who celebrates it now?

Juneteenth had been only a regional observance until its revival in the last several decades of the twentieth century. Before then, it was remembered primarily by residents of Texas and the Southwest. Now it is celebrated nationwide with many states holding formal celebrations and festivals. 

How is Juneteenth celebrated?

Wherever African Americans constituted significant proportions of the population, business (at least black-owned ones) stopped for the day as African Americans conducted a parade. They listened to orations from prominent members of the community. A central ritual was the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, a duty considered as a special honor by the reader. Orators used these occasions to highlight the contribution of black people to American civic life and, consequently, press the case for the advancement and protection of their rights. Celebrations today look similar with picnics, festivals, and a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. 


William A. Blair, the Walter L. and Helen P. Ferree Professor of American History at the Pennsylvania State University, serves as director of the Richards Civil War Era Center and is the founding editor of the Journal of the Civil War Era

Congratulations to Evan Rothera!

Congratulations to Evan Rothera on successfully defending his dissertation, “Civil Wars and Reconstructions in America: The United States, Mexico, and Argentina, 1860-1880" on June 14!

Richards Center Scholars Present Research at Berkshire Conference

Richards Center Scholars Present Research at Berkshire Conference

Amira Rose Davis, one of the Richards Center scholars who presented research at the Berkshire Conference

Five Richards Center-affiliated scholars presented their scholarship at the Seventeenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Genders, and Sexualities, which was held on the campus of Hofstra University June 1-4. The triennial conference is the largest academic gathering of its kind in the world and the premier conference for women’s history and gender history. Penn State Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies Amira Rose Davis, who was the Richards Center's 2016-17 postdoctoral fellow, took part in a panel on the topic of Black Women and Global Capitalism in the Post War Era. Dr. Davis presented the paper, “From Goodwill Girls to Flo Jo Barbie: Global Games and the Commodification of Black Women’s Athletic Bodies,” which was drawn from her dissertation research on twentieth century black women athletes’ uncompensated labor. Past Richards Center postdoctoral fellows Sasha Turner (2013-14) and Cynthia Greenlee (2014-15) also presented at the conference.

Joining Davis, Greenlee, and Turner at the conference were PhD candidate Emily Seitz and Penn State graduate Rachel Moran (PhD, ’13), now an Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Texas. Seitz organized the panel on which they both appeared, which focused on the history of attempts to extend definitions of legal personhood to the fetus. Seitz’s paper, “What About the Mother?: Managing Infant and Maternal Mortality in Early 20th-Century Philadelphia,” examined conflicts over this issue at the turn of the twentieth century, while Dr. Moran’s paper, “The Uses of Personhood: Negotiating Social Welfare and Definitions of Dependence,” explored legal fights over fetal personhood immediately prior to, and following, the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

The Berkshire Conference was founded in 1930 as a venue where women historians could meet, share research, and further their professional development. The conference performed an important role at a time when women were excluded from many informal gatherings of academic historians. The conference took its name from the site of its annual meetings in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the Berkshire Mountains. As the conference grew in popularity, in 1973 organizers inaugurated the "Big Berks" conference, first held biennially and subsequently triennially, to complement the smaller annual Berks gathering. The Berks conferences are the primary means by which the organization realizes its official vision of "fostering friendship, and the exchange of ideas, among a global network of feminist historians."

Beauvoir, The Last Home of Jefferson Davis by Laura Smith

Beauvoir, The Last Home of Jefferson Davis by Laura Smith

The Greek revival style of the museum, run by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. A statue of Jefferson Davis stands outside the museum near the sign for the house tours. Photo by author.

The quote from George Orwell’s novel 1984, “who controls the present controls the past” is unfortunately especially poignant under the Trump administration.[1] The threats posed to education and Americans’ understanding of their own history, thanks to his endorsement of “alternative facts,” have already received widespread attention. Indeed, journalist David Graham astutely states that, “when presidents play historian, it almost always says more about them than it does with history.”[2]

Trump’s relationship to the historic site at Beauvoir illustrates the need for historians to increase their public history outreach. Even prior to his presidency, Trump’s endorsement of historical figures prominent in American history has consistently reflected either an ignorance of the facts or a historiographical interpretation that is no longer taught at mainstream universities. Take, for instance, his interest in donating money to help renovate Beauvoir. Beauvoir, the home and presidential library where ex-president of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis retired, is near Biloxi. This coastal region of Mississippi, and Beauvoir specifically, were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. To the credit of the Mississippi locals, they have rebuilt this stunning coastal area. Beauvoir possesses beautifully well-kept grounds, the historic house has been exquisitely restored whilst being surrounded by washed up oyster shells, and the museum stands as an imposing building in the Greek revival style.


The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

Let Us Not Forget the Living: The Complicated Lives of Union Veterans by James Marten

Ambiguity shaped the lives of Civil War veterans. Publicly honored and respected, many never managed to fit back into their old lives, or to build new ones. This is a familiar story to modern Americans, of course. Although the stereotypical troubled veteran in popular culture has tended to be a victim of the Vietnam War, adjustment problems have plagued veterans of all wars. Indeed, our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given rise to competing narratives of heroism and honor versus physical disability, addiction, and the failure of veterans’ health care systems.

The storylines that followed Civil War veterans into their postwar years were equally complex. This was certainly true of the Northwestern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee (NHDVS), which was one of the three original soldiers’ homes established by Congress in 1865. The branch was unique in that its funding came partly from the $100,000 raised at a Soldiers’ Home Fair organized by the women of Milwaukee during the summer after the war. The women, who had cared for hundreds of soldiers at a downtown facility during the war, had intended to open a bigger home for extended postwar care, but were convinced to donate their money by a group of men angling to get a federal home at Milwaukee. The Northwestern Branch opened in May 1867 on a four hundred-acre site west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By the 1890s, over two thousand men lived at the home.[1]

Northwestern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee (NHDVS)

 The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.

The World Has Lost Another Giant: Michael Morrison, 1948-2017, by Caroline Janney

Michael A. Morrison passed away on Sunday, May 14, 2017, at his residence in Lafayette, Indiana. A professor at Purdue University for twenty-five years, Mike was a cherished colleague, scholar, teacher, and friend.

After serving in the United States Air Force as a Sergeant during the Vietnam War era, Mike attended college in his home state of Michigan before taking up graduate study at the University of Michigan under J. Mills Thornton. It was there that he met his future wife, historian Nancy Gabin, whom he married in 1984.

From 1991 to 2016, Mike served as a professor in the Department of History at Purdue University. To say that he was a beloved teacher is beyond an understatement. Students were partial to his U.S. history survey, often warning others about the prospects of sitting in the front row. Doing so made one likely to be bumped into or jostled as he launched into one of his meandering walks in the midst of explaining the sectional crisis or some other crucial period. If they enjoyed the survey and his Jacksonian America class, they lined up in droves to take his signature course–Society, Culture, and Rock & Roll. Generations of Boilermakers who had never heard of Bob Dylan or knew anything about British punk instantly became cooler and hipper–not to mention steeped in the rich social, political, and cultural context of the mid-twentieth century. In addition to his regular teaching load, he nearly always had at least one–if not more–history honors student or freshman scholar each semester. Mike’s classroom accolades were not confined to his students. He rightfully earned nearly every teaching award possible. He was the recipient of the College of Liberal Arts Teaching Excellence Award and Purdue University’s Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award–the highest honor for teaching at the university. In 1998, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named him Indiana Professor of the Year. In 2003, Mike was inducted into Purdue’s Book of Great Teachers. The list goes on and on–but you get the picture. Students adored him, and more importantly, came to appreciate the larger world around them.

The full article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.