Today is an American Holiday.
Not a holiday for black people only. Not a holiday for former slaves. Today is a day that has been chosen to celebrate the end of the most destructive and detestable institution America has ever seen. As is such, it is a day that ALL Americans can and should celebrate.
But all of us are not doing that. Some of us even question the need.
So let’s circle back and examine what we’re actually talking about. Four hundred and one years ago, black men and women were brought to this continent and placed in a condition of servitude and slavery that would last nearly 250 years. However, we didn’t just realize slavery was all of sudden bad and we should stop doing it in 1865. They knew it was bad. The first prohibitions began within a few decades of it’s genesis. The first states began abolishing the practice before the end of the Revolutionary War. But for a hundred years after, the practice continued in some of the most harshest conditions. It was not easy. It was not just working without pay. It was organized torture. It was a constant rape of women. It was a constant brutalization and mutilation of men. It was kidnapping children from the only family they knew. It was a certain death. Sometimes a slow death. Many times an agonizing death. Only the fortunate ones achieved a long but undignified death. But it’s important to put in the context of what this was because we need to recognize where we are.
Today is Juneteenth. The unofficial recognition of the end of slavery in the United States. Of course we all know the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863. We also know the Confederacy was defeated and officially dissolved by May of 1865. But slavery continued. There was no apparatus to, not only tell slaves that they were free, but there was nothing to hold them captive. There was no “Black Twitter”. There was no internet back then. There weren’t even telephones. So slave masters in the furthest parts of the United States just forgot to tell their slaves what they knew by other means. It took until Major General George Granger’s arrival in Galveston, Texas and broadly announcing “General Order No. 3” that emancipated slaves.
However, if you think this fixed 250 years of inequality, then I have another story to tell you. A few stories actually. First, in February of 2020, 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by two white men that accused him of committing a crime. A few weeks later, Louisville Metro Police entered the home of Kenneth Walker and Breonna Taylor with a no-knock warrant and no announcement of who they were. Mr. Walker took his firearm to defend himself and his girlfriend and in the ensuing exchange, Breonna Taylor was killed. America would not learn of either of these instances until months later in May, a few weeks prior to the time when officers in Minneapolis responded to a report of a counterfeit bill and during the response Derek Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of George Floyd, killing him.
150 years after the end of slavery, we STILL face death for being black.
So what exactly are we celebrating? What have we achieved? Slavery has technically ended. Yes. Over time, Black Americans have been given legal rights. But we still have to fight for our dignity and humanity. We are still fighting to remove vestiges of an order that fought to have that humanity and dignity stripped from us. Every time, the light is shined on our journey of pain, we in turn shine the light on what causes this pain. Whether it’s aggressive law enforcement, inequitable health outcomes, disparages in employment and education or even as simple as removal of icons of the Confederacy. And along the way we are still met with resistance.
It’s an oddity, that those who question why we need to celebrate the end of slavery also question why we need to end the celebration of slave masters.
That is what this is about.
This is why we need to celebrate Juneteenth. And it could not have come any sooner. We are at yet another intersection on an endless road of recovery, racing to play catch-up. We have obstacles and miles to go. Nothing is accomplished, particularly when it comes to race, when we think it should be done. It has taken centuries for us to be free. It has taken decades for us to be equal. And despite all that we are still fighting to even matter in the eyes of those that refuse to see our humanity. The ensuing protest to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks did not solves racism, no more than the announcement of “General Order No. 3”. And frankly, slavery didn’t even end on that day in June 150 years ago. The last slave wasn’t freed until a few weeks before Christmas of that year. But hey, Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t passed or signed on July 4th and Columbus didn’t discover America on October 12th. He didn’t really discover it at all, but that’s another conversation.
So please, celebrate Juneteenth. Celebrate it today. Celebrate it tomorrow. Celebrate it every year. It’s your holiday America. It’s time we all appreciate the end of a terrible institution and embrace what that end really means. Way past time actually.