End of slavery celebrated on June 19

DALLAS – Texans, and an increasing number of people across America, celebrate the end of slavery on June 19 because on that day in 1865 Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army announced in Galveston that he and his troops were taking over Texas and ending slavery for good.

 “Juneteenth” celebrations, as they are called, are scheduled this year but there are important concerns on the minds of the people who will do the celebrating.

 Chief among those concerns is the pending announcement of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder. Shelby County, Alabama, argued in February that Section 5 of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 should no longer be enforced. They say that the most historically racist of the Southern States have all learned their lessons and will no longer practice racism through their election rules. It’s the first time, by the way, that we here a law should be gotten rid of because it was successful. (If we end burglary or murder do we get rid of the laws against them too?)

In any case, the federal government, in the person of Attorney General Holder, says that Section 5 is still needed – certain states, including Alabama and Texas – still need federal oversight on all changes to their election rules. (This doesn’t even take into account the fact that the last round of elections shows that states and counties all over the country should actually be added to the list covered under the Voting Rights Act. GOP state legislative majorities moved heaven and earth to try to restrict the number of minority voters.

 Racist politicians in Texas argue that Texas no longer needs federal oversight. Their recent redistricting schemes and their proposals for new voting rules give the lie to this claim. When both were reviewed by federal officials, they were struck down on the basis of blatant racism. That happened only a year ago, not back in the 1880’s.

 This year, they are in the process of drawing up new legislative maps whereby one of four new congressional districts would be a “minority” district. (The 2010 census showed a huge increase in the number of black and particularly in the number of Latino Texans.)

If the legislature were redistricting fairly or proportionally, however, three, not one, of those four districts would be drawn so a “minority” candidate could be elected. The claim that federal oversight under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed in Texas, then, rings hollow.

Nevertheless, the Juneteenth celebrations will be joyous. There are picnics, concerts, marches, rallies, discussions, lectures, banquets, feasts, and dances all over the state. Dallas alone has at least six of them scheduled, including one that will begin with a leafleting at a local Walmart.