What Are We Celebrating When We Commemorate Juneteenth?
Imagine living in a world where, instead of seeing airports, tall buildings, shopping centers and schools, you see plantations. Driving your car or taking a stroll through your neighborhood – instead of seeing the present for what it is, you see the present overlaying what once was. Every day to me is a constant reminder of slavery. Or, better put, a constant reminder of how so few are aware of just how close to home slavery really is.
I think of Juneteenth and I ask myself, “What am I supposed to be celebrating?” The freedom of my people? Thank you America for finally doing something half right by us for once? I stress the word half, because just after the formal end of slavery, states like Louisiana passed legislation that permitted former slaves to work only for their former masters. There was legislation permitting former slave masters to steal Black children from their parents and place them into forced “apprenticeships.” And, of course, there is that funky addendum in the 13th Amendment, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” thus, creating the U.S Prison Industrial Complex, which generated free Black labor for the southern and American economy. Are you free if the shackles of slavery are still bound around your ankles?
The Tulsa massacre was not an outlier event. The Black descendants of Rosewood, New York City, Memphis, Vicksburg, Atlanta, St Bernard Parish, and on and on and on, have their own horrendous stories to tell. Ask those from Wilmington when, in November 1898, white citizens murdered countless Black citizens and deposed of duly elected Black leaders. Of these atrocities, none were held accountable and Black people were forced to accept the reality that we were not one nation under God. Am I celebrating my freedom if justice for all is merely a quoted phrase with no action applied to it?
We children of former slaves did not ask to come to America, yet here we are – day after day, generation after generation, striving to prove just how American and patriotic we are. Yet at every turn and with every attempt, society reminds us of our sad reality. Is this the sentiment of a free people or one of those still striving to be free?
Juneteenth is a recognition that the struggle is still real – that we all must continue to fight if we truly believe in We the People. Use Juneteenth as your rallying cry to make life and our greater society better for all Americans. From Nat Turner to John Brown to Viola Liuzzo to George Floyd, keep their spirits close and in your minds. For me, Juneteenth is for our children – a goal to be attained in the hopes that one day, all Americans will truly be free.