NOEL KING, HOST:
Tomorrow, this country will celebrate a new national holiday, Juneteenth. On June 19, 1865, U.S. Army troops arrived in Galveston, Texas. The Civil War was over. The troops informed some of the last enslaved Americans that they were free. They enforced a proclamation that we're going to read aloud this morning. President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863. It declared freedom for some enslaved people. In a minute, we're going to hear a reading of that proclamation. But first, we want to explain why it only applied to some people. Kay Wright Lewis, an associate professor of history at Howard University, is with us now. Good morning, professor.
KAY WRIGHT LEWIS: Good morning.
KING: The vast majority of us learned as children in history class that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all enslaved people. That is actually not true, though. Who did it free.
LEWIS: Well, it freed people who were a part of the Confederacy. However, states like Maryland, who decided to remain out of the fray, if you will, remain neutral - those people that were enslaved in Maryland were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, nor were people who were in territories that the Union had conquered.
KING: So in the proclamation, in the reading that we're about to hear, we will hear a long list of states and territories. And where our minds should go is, if one was an enslaved person in any one of those states or territories, that person was not freed under this proclamation?
LEWIS: What Lincoln is responding to is the fact that enslaved people have already been freeing themselves. We know at least 500,000 formerly or enslaved people freed themselves, running to the Union lines, running north during the Civil War. And so the Emancipation Proclamation is sort of putting a period on something, on an effort, on a movement that on the ground has already begun. And so in one sense, it doesn't do the work that it proclaims to do which is make Abraham Lincoln on the right side of history because his idea is more of it being a military campaign or military tactic versus actually a moral decision.
KING: Kay Wright Lewis is an associate professor of history at Howard University. Professor, thank you so much for being with us.
LEWIS: My pleasure.
KING: And now from NPR staff, here are the words of the Emancipation Proclamation.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: By the president of the United States of America, a proclamation whereas on the 22nd day of September in the year of our Lord 1862, a proclamation was issued by the president of the United States containing, among other things, the following, to wit...
KING: ...That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord 1863, all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.
SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: And the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons or any of them in any efforts they make for their actual freedom.
RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: That the executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation designate the states and parts of states, if any, in which the people thereof respectively shall then be in rebellion against the United States.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: And the fact that any state or the people thereof shall on that day be, in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such state shall have participated, shall in the absence of strong, countervailing testimony be deemed conclusive evidence that such state and the people thereof are not then in rebellion against the United States.
DWANE BROWN, BYLINE: Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion...
AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: ...Do on this first day of January in the year of our Lord 1863 and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of 100 days from the day first above mentioned order and designate as the states and parts of states wherein the people thereof respectively are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following to wit...
TONYA MOSLEY, BYLINE: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana - except for the parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin and Orleans, including the city of New Orleans - Mississippi, Alabama...
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: ...Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia - except the 48 counties designated as West Virginia and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth - and which excepted parts are, for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
KORVA COLEMAN, BYLINE: And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated states and parts of states are and hence forward shall be free...
GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: ...And that the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense. And I recommend to them that in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations and other places and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
WALTER RAY WATSON, BYLINE: In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed, done at the city of Washington, this first day of January in the year of our Lord 1863 and of the independence of the United States of America the 87th. By the president, Abraham Lincoln.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "EQUALITY UNDER THE LAW")
KING: The reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to commemorate Juneteenth tomorrow, also known as Emancipation Day or Black Independence Day.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "EQUALITY UNDER THE LAW")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.