June 20, 2008
BILL MOYERS: Finally, some historical footnotes as we close the JOURNAL. Two weekends from now, we'll celebrate the Fourth of July and America's Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776. Thirty years later, Britain and the United States each abolished the slave trade. But despite the official ban on importation, slavery continued in America another 60 years — only to be followed after the Civil War, as you just heard, by another hundred years of opression.

As the war to free the slaves ended, there was briefly a spark of hope. President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation had come half-way through the war taking effect on January 1, 1863. But nobody told the slaves in faraway Texas. They didn't learn that they were free until June of 1865. Two months after war's end, Union general Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, gathered the slaves around him, and read them Lincoln's two-year-old proclamation. As I was growing up in segregated east Texas, in a county that once owned more slaves than any other in the state, and in a town about evenly divided between the races, Juneteenth, as the former slaves came to call it, was a big day for half the population. Blacks celebrated; whites pretended not to notice.

But the idea spread, and is still spreading to this day. Last week Vermont became the 29th state to declare the third Saturday in June an official holiday, Juneteenth.

So Condoleeza Rice is correct, we've come a long way in overcoming that birth defect from America's original sin. But as betrayal followed betrayal, every step forward was a painful struggle, every expectation could meet with disillusion.

Remember, When he read Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation to the slaves in Texas, General Granger told them there now existed, quote, "an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves." That was 1865. Another hundred bitter years would pass before America made another serious payment on the promise. And there's still a distance to go. Lest we forget.

That's it for the JOURNAL.