When I hear folks explaining the historical details of “Juneteenth,” I find a disturbing “white wash” of the facts; the omission is an Irish hero of the days after Lee’s surrender, which ended the Civil War. General Phillip Sheridan played a leading role in forcing General Robert E. Lee to surrender at Appomattox after defeating his armies in several battles.
In 1865, Gen. Sheridan ordered the reading of a proclamation that informed Texas slaves that they were free men and women.
As military governor in Texas after the war, Sheridan was not just following General Ulysses S. Grant’s orders; he was determined that former slaves would never be exploited again, that white supremacists would be removed from powerful positions, and that the Black man had the right to vote. To emphasize that point, he fired the racist governor of Texas and the mayor of New Orleans.
He ordered General Gordon Granger to proclaim the slaves free in Texas on June 19, 1865, what is now regarded as the Juneteenth holiday in the United States. In part, the Juneteenth proclamation read by Gen. Granger in Galveston reads: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
Sheridan was so determined to push equality through that President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, and rebel supporter, had him removed, contrary to Gen. Grant’s objections.
Irish Americans must be reminded of what we have in common with the oppressed of the world. The Gen. Sheridan story is a great illustration of that theme, following the example of Daniel O’Connell, the “Great Liberator,” who kept his vow not to step foot in America until we ended slavery, in spite of the millions of dollars he would have raised here for the Irish cause in the 1800s.
This remains a great inspiration for today, for all white Americans, not just Irish: to be selfless allies in the tradition of Pete Seeger and the Jesuit Berrigan brothers. Support your local NAACP or ACLU, whatever group fits your political bent.
Think global, act local.
One fine body…