Jun 19, 2022
Historian Traces The Historical Significance Of Juneteenth Transcript
Historian and professor Annette Gordon-Reed joins Morning Joe to discuss the historical significance of the Juneteenth holiday. Read the transcript here.
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Joe Scarborough: (00:02)
This weekend Americans across the country are going to celebrate Juneteenth. The holiday celebrates the true moment that all slaves across the country were freed, two years after then-president Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The new federal holiday was signed into law last year by President Biden. He called the moment one of the greatest honors he would have as president. With us now, let’s bring in Professor at Harvard University and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Annette Gordon-Reed. Her bestselling book is titled On Juneteenth. Now, is this out in paperback yet?
Annette Gordon-Reed: (00:36)
Not yet. Not yet. We’re still in hardback.
Joe Scarborough: (00:37)
Still selling like hot cakes. I loved your book, because I loved you describing your relationship with the State of Texas, and it reminded me what Faulkner said about the South. I love the South. I hate the South, and you never really got to the I hate Texas, but you identify yourself as a Texan, and this was a Texas holiday, and when other states tried to take your holiday, you felt a little possessive, didn’t you?
Annette Gordon-Reed: (01:09)
At first, at first. That was a juvenile response, but I felt that no, my family’s roots go back very, very far in Texas on my mother’s side to 1820s, my father the 1850s, and most of my family is in Texas. We didn’t join the great migration and move to other parts of the country.
Joe Scarborough: (01:27)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (01:28)
They moved to little towns in Texas, to big towns in Texas.
Joe Scarborough: (01:31)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (01:31)
So I feel very, very connected to the place, problems and all.
Joe Scarborough: (01:35)
Yeah, problems and all. Explain about Juneteenth, and how, for those that don’t know, and a lot of people don’t know the whole story, explain how Texas plays such a big role in Juneteenth.
Annette Gordon-Reed: (01:48)
Well, Juneteenth commemorates the day that United States Army General Gordon Granger comes to Galveston with Black troops to announce that slavery is over in Texas. The Confederate Army had kept fighting, even though Lee surrendered in April. They were fighting well into May, and the last battle of the Civil War was in Texas, and they won, but they knew that the whole war was lost, so they surrender, and then that’s when Granger can go in with the army and say, “Slavery’s over.”
Al Sharpton: (02:16)
I think that one of the things that is important about what you bring forth in the book, and we deal with Juneteenth, is it puts in perspective why we save a union.
Annette Gordon-Reed: (02:27)
Al Sharpton: (02:27)
I mean, going to our discussion, even what’s going on with the January 6th Committee, is that the reason that slavery continued and the emancipation of the slaves in Texas was delayed, is because there was no concentration of Union soldiers to protect the Union, what the United States was doing against what Texas Confederate soldiers were doing. I think if we look at Juneteenth in the perspective of what we’re fighting for right now, it’s to preserve one union that would be able to protect all citizens. I think that is why all Americans can celebrate Juneteenth.
Annette Gordon-Reed: (03:07)
Mm-hmm, and Granger in his general order also says that after slavery was over, people of African descent would be in a state of absolute equality with other Americans now.
Al Sharpton: (03:17)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (03:17)
He couldn’t just say those words and make it happen, and it didn’t happen. But the idea, the aspirational notion of that, is something that we are still fighting for. That links the holiday to some of the stuff that’s going on today.
Al Sharpton: (03:30)
Which is why we fought then states’ rights, that whole era, on, and on, and on, which ended up with the Civil Rights Movement. The ’60s was really about states’ rights, but that goes back to what happened in Texas …
Annette Gordon-Reed: (03:41)
Al Sharpton: (03:41)
… where the whole country said Emancipation Proclamation. Texas is not here until Granger landed and protected.
Annette Gordon-Reed: (03:47)
Until you force us to.
Al Sharpton: (03:49)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (03:49)
And that’s what the troops were able to do. I just, as a historian, you imagine what the time was like when enslaved people saw Black soldiers in uniform coming as liberators to …
Al Sharpton: (04:02)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (04:02)
… change the world for them. It didn’t change completely. They knew they were in for a struggle, because they knew who they were dealing with, right?
Al Sharpton: (04:08)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (04:09)
But they were hopeful, and I think commemorating Juneteenth commemorates that joy, that hope that they felt that the day was going to be different, and that’s why we have to keep carrying that forward.
Joe Scarborough: (04:20)
How difficult was Reconstruction in Texas? How did Texas compare to the Deep South? I mean, that’s actually a leading question.
Annette Gordon-Reed: (04:27)
Well, and a leading question. Your leading question, Joe.
Joe Scarborough: (04:29)
That’s what we lawyers call leading questions.
Annette Gordon-Reed: (04:30)
Well, leading question, yes.
Joe Scarborough: (04:32)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (04:32)
It was tough.
Joe Scarborough: (04:33)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (04:33)
The people who came to Texas during the war, many people from Georgia, and Alabama, and Mississippi rushed into Texas to try to one step ahead of emancipation, so these are really hardcore people.
Joe Scarborough: (04:45)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (04:45)
They’d had their own country. They won the last battle. They thought they had never been defeated, and so they were really recalcitrant. The people who ran the Freedmen’s Bureau there said that Texas was particularly difficult place.
Joe Scarborough: (04:58)
Yeah, and give us your perspective about what we’ve been walking through over the past four, five, six years, why it’s so important for Congress and the president to sign the Juneteenth Bill, and what we can learn.
Annette Gordon-Reed: (05:18)
Well, I think we’re walking through a time when people realize that we’re still living with the legacy of slavery. I think the murder of George Floyd 2020 in May, and then Juneteenth afterwards, people were asking, “How did we get here?”
Joe Scarborough: (05:32)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (05:32)
“What is this all about?” People see that the legacy of slavery affects us in lots of different ways, and they fashioned I think on Juneteenth as a way for us to talk about that. I think that’s what’s been really going on, is this sense that we’re at a reckoning. We’re at a turning point in this country, and we’re trying to decide what kind of people we actually are, and the question of Black citizenship has always been up for grabs, and it’s still up for grabs, and that’s what we’re fighting for.
Joe Scarborough: (05:59)
But we saw what happened in Buffalo, and we hear talk about the great replacement theory, and it’s so ironic that people who’s maybe from Eastern Europe that are talking about the great replacement theory maybe got here in 1910, 1920, maybe they were German immigrants who were treated badly in the 1900s, or they were Irish immigrants who were treated badly in the 1850s, and they just don’t realize that actually they came about two-
Annette Gordon-Reed: (06:27)
People didn’t like them either.
Joe Scarborough: (06:29)
They didn’t like them. I mean that they came about two, three centuries after Black Americans came here involuntarily, which again, great replacement theory, it’s preposterous.
Annette Gordon-Reed: (06:41)
It is preposterous. Most African American people, descendants of enslaved people, came from people who were here in the 1700s.
Joe Scarborough: (06:48)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (06:48)
There are only about around a million people I think of African people brought to the United States, and from that we get one million to four million at 1865. These people were in place for a very, very long time.
Joe Scarborough: (07:01)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (07:02)
James Baldwin said if the American Negro is not an American, there is no American.
Joe Scarborough: (07:06)
There is no American. Yeah. All right. Well, Professor at Harvard University, Annette Gordon-Reed, thank you so much.
Annette Gordon-Reed: (07:13)
Thank you for having me.
Joe Scarborough: (07:14)
Juneteenth is on Sunday, and the federal holiday is on Monday.
Al Sharpton: (07:19)
Annette Gordon-Reed: (07:19)
Al Sharpton: (07:19)
Joe Scarborough: (07:20)
Alex, does that mean we get off Monday, we can sleep in Monday?
You can, but the rest of us can’t.
Joe Scarborough: (07:25)
Oh, okay, good. All right. Still ahead, we’re-