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Jun
19
2022
Celebrating Juneteenth

Nationwide, there is a movement underway to broadly honor, celebrate and recognize Juneteenth. National Heritage Areas are committed to telling the stories of all people, especially those that historically have been left out of conversation. The Alliance of National Heritage Areas, of which the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area (YCNHA) is a member, is firmly committed to achieving a national culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Juneteenth is “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.” 

Nationwide, there is a movement underway to broadly honor, celebrate and recognize Juneteenth. National Heritage Areas are committed to telling the stories of all people, especially those that historically have been left out of conversation. The Alliance of National Heritage Areas, of which the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area (YCNHA) is a member, is firmly committed to achieving a national culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Juneteenth is “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.” 

 

Most states, including Arizona, and the District of Columbia, have passed legislation recognizing the day, June 19, as a holiday or an observance.  The YCNHA recognizes Juneteenth as a holiday as well, and encourages staff and board to participate in local celebration activities.  Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and read General Orders No. 3. Nearly two and a half years following President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. It very appropriate to further educate people about this important history given the mass protests, which are still going on, across the country decrying police brutality, and in support of equal justice under law. Structural racism is real, and must be effective dealt with in order for this country to continue its march toward becoming a perfect union.  Consequently, there are renewed calls to make Juneteenth a national holiday. 

 

In celebration of Juneteenth, the YCNHA offers this perhaps little known story about the history of slavery in New Mexico Territory, which included present-day Arizona until 1863. To learn more about Juneteenth, visit www.Juneteenth.com.

 

While the most prominent and heartbreaking depictions of slavery in the United States come out of the Deep South, slavery was at one point practiced in almost every state, including Arizona. In fact, slavery was a part of life in what is now Arizona since the Spanish Colonial period. Before British colonists could even think about bringing their African slaves to the Eastern Colonies, the Spanish had already established a slave trade rooted in the capture of Native Americans. Almost as soon as the Spanish began settling in what is now the states of Arizona and New Mexico, they began capturing Indian women and children in war raids. Despite slavery being abolished in the Spanish Empire since 1542, the practice was justified by claiming the Spanish were “civilizing” their Native American captives.

 

The dynamics of this system were different from that of the American South, but the brutality was the same. In 1866, Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent Graves wrote that the system appeared almost identical to that of black slavery practiced in the Southern states. Captive women were often kept as concubines and children were forced to assimilate to their Hispanic master’s culture. Almost all were kept in squalor, neglected, and abused. Hundreds of years of captivity and brutality created a unique ethnic group of detribalized Spanish-speaking Native Americans who became known as the genizaros, (heh-NEE-sah-ros). By the 18th-century, genizaros made up as much as one-third of the area’s population. Slavery in the area was a widespread and devastating practice that still impacts communities of genizaros’ decedents today.

 

Like slavery in the South, slavery in the New Mexico Territory, which included modern-day Arizona, did not legally end until the passage of the 13th amendment in 1865. Yet, many in the territory still practiced slavery for two more years including the Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent who owned six Native American slaves in 1866. The continued defiance of the New Mexico Territory forced Congress to pass the Peonage Act of 1867, specifically and finally ending all forms of slavery practiced in the territory