PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – For many Americans, freedom is something we celebrate each Fourth of July, recognizing our nation’s independence from Great Britain. But for others in this country, independence would not come for close to a century later.
Most modern textbooks mark the abolition of slavery in the United States with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. But the fight for freedom actually continued on for a few more years, leading to a day we now recognize as Juneteenth.READ MORE: State Officials Warn Identity Theft Is Aiding Fraudsters Make False Unemployment Claims
The full story behind how this country’s African-American ancestors shed their shackles has gone unspoken in many classrooms.
“Students not only need to know the history of the United States, they need to understand that it is a part of their history even if they themselves are not African American,” said Dr. Robin Chapdelaine, assistant professor of history at Duquesne University.
Juneteenth is something that’s always covered in Chapdelaine’s classroom.
“We will never understand the plight of African Americans today in U.S. society if we don’t take seriously our past and the struggle of African Americans,” said Chapdelaine.
On Jan. 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, freeing those enslaved in Confederate states. Union soldiers spread the news by reading the proclamation on plantations as they marched across the south. But in some states, that message wouldn’t be heard for more than 2 years.
“If it wasn’t for the presence of the Union Army in Texas in 1865, then who knows how long slavery could have continued to exist,” said Samuel W. Black, the director of African American Programs at the Heinz History Center.READ MORE: Fayette County Man Faces Dozens Of Charges After Police Find 13 Dogs Living In Deplorable Conditions
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Texas, announcing the estimated quarter of a million people still enslaved in the state were free.
“So Juneteenth became that Texas thing that spread throughout the rest of the country and sort of took on the past freedom celebrations of Haiti, slave trade, British West Indies and sort of wrapped all that up into this Black freedom celebration,” said Black.
However, the complete reckoning of slavery would not come for another six months when the 13th Amendment was signed into law.
But with freedom came a new battle for equality. It’s a fight that continues today, now with a renewed focus on the inequality of the criminal justice system.
“One-fourth of all people incarnated in the world are right here in the United States. And yet we are looking at Juneteenth as a day of freedom,” said Black. “We have to also be reminded that we are not just acknowledging what had taken place in the past, but what’s happening currently in our society.”
But with this most recent civil rights movement across the nation, historians believe for the first time in a long time that people are listening and hungry to hear more about a history that has long been re-written.MORE NEWS: Sojourner House Helps Women On Path To Recovery
From places like Market Square downtown to the Hill District, historians at the Heinz History Center say Pittsburgh played a significant role in the abolitionist movement, streets we walk past even today housing safe havens for freedom seekers.