‘Juneteenth’ is rarely — if ever — celebrated by many in Black America, instead thrown to the side for it’s flashier red, white and blue counterpart, laughably called ‘Independence Day’ on July 4. The argument that United States independence was pivotal to slaves’ independence is ineffective because Great Britain abolished slavery completely about 30 years prior to Juneteenth — and started the process decades before that. There was absolutely no need for slavery to still be an institution in this country other than greed and racism.
June 19, 1865 is the day that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with word that the Civil War had ended and that enslaved Africans in the region had been “freed.” They knew nothing of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863. So, for those 2 1/2 years, many of our ancestors continued to live in chains as celebrations of ‘freedom’ swirled around them.
Oh, well, some of us take any reason to bar-b-que, right? I guess the thinking is that even though they didn’t free slaves on the fourth of July, we sure can take a day off work like everyone else now. Take that, massa.
But, unfortunately, even Juneteenth may offer nothing but a mere mirage of freedom.
In an investigative report, TheRoot.com looks at all of the institutions that came after the shackle-breaking event. From debt-peonage and Reconstruction, to Jim and Jane Crow and the so-called War on Drugs, many black Americans have continued to live in bondage in one form or the other.
African-American second-class citizenship has reappeared as a result of the war on drugs and draconian laws created during the 1980s. As civil rights litigator and author Michelle Alexander points out in her recent book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the subjugation of African Americans through criminalization continues through the prison industrial complex.
“Racial caste is alive and well in America,” Alexander wrote in the Huffington Post. “Here are a few facts … There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. As of 2004, more African-American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.”
The bottom line is that there is no specific date, no specific time period that black Americans can look to and say, “That’s when our freedom began.” Because there isn’t one. Slavery, just like racism, is still alive and well. Many of us have just gotten smarter about navigating the invisible chains.
As Malcolm X said, “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a (wo)man, you take it.”
The real celebration will come when we all reach that realization.