Juneteenth — Another Point Of View

This is another that I first published last year, but felt it was well worth reprising this year, for it is thought-provoking and adds context, another view, to the discussion. 

While I have applauded the passage and presidential signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act and have chalked up most of the objections to both ignorance and racism, I did come across one thought-provoking OpEd.  This piece by a professor at Morehouse College, a historically Black liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia, makes some very valid points.  Professor Robert A. Brown is not against the Juneteenth holiday, but reminds us that declaring it a federal holiday is not the end goal, that there is much work to be done in this country yet before Blacks have true freedom and equality.  The phrase, ‘Talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words’ comes to mind as I read his words and ponder what he says …

Juneteenth As A National Holiday Is Symbolism Without Progress

June 19, 2021  6:00 AM ET


This week, President Biden signed into law the “Juneteenth National Independence Day.”

It is honoring the work of Black Americans, including people such as 94-year-old Civil Rights Activist Opal Lee, who had long advocated for the celebration that started in Galveston to be made a federal holiday.

Juneteenth celebrates the date when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19th, 1865, bringing news that the Emancipation Proclamation had freed the enslaved population living in the Confederacy, albeit two years prior.

Yet the reaction amongst many African Americans, myself included, has been muted.

There is a growing discontent in the African American community with symbolic gestures that are presented as progress without any accompanying economic or structural change.

The vestiges of a shameful past continue

Though Juneteenth is a celebration of the people who endured slavery, the vestiges of slavery and the Jim Crow segregation designed to preserve it continue to this day.

As law professor Michelle Alexander notes, “There are more African American men in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850.”

The average white household holds almost 7 times more than the wealth of a Black household. Perhaps more concerning, education does little to close the Black-white wealth gap as white families headed by those without a college degree have more wealth than Black families headed by those with a graduate or professional degree.

And yet, in the face of these stark disparities, lawmakers have been more willing to engage in performative symbolism than passing laws to make substantive change.

We have seen federal lawmakers take a knee, draped in kente cloth, but we have seen no substantive change about reforming police brutality that inspired Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest.

Lift Every Voice and Sing” is sung across the country, while legislation for reparations for the horrors of slavery languish. Sports arenas and streets have the words “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned for all to see, and yet police reform and anti-lynching laws that were some of the initial goals of the Black Lives Matter movement remain unpassed.

What is needed are substantive steps

There are substantive steps that federal lawmakers could take to honor the historic debt owed to the descendants of the enslaved in addition to a federal holiday.

House Resolution 40 has called for a committee to study reparations. If advanced, it could ultimately begin a national discussion about cash reparations at the federal level.

Substantive reform to end the immunity police who brutalize our citizens should be enacted, as well as a reversal of the decades-long militarization of the police.

Historically Black colleges and universities, most of which were founded around the end of slavery, should receive substantial increases in federal funding.

In many ways, the history of Juneteenth and the end of U.S. slavery mirrors the uneven pace of progress for African Americans during the following 150 years.

I have celebrated Juneteenth at festivals that honor the culture and community of the descendants of those who had been enslaved. Those celebrations always featured a community singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” just like members of Congress did upon the signing of the Juneteenth holiday into law.

This year, while I’ll sing about being “full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,” like many African Americans, I’ll be mindful that, as the song says, we must continue to fight on “till victory is won.”

24 thoughts on “Juneteenth — Another Point Of View

  1. Thank you for the post … reflection is so powerful. There are times when people are afraid to tackle ideas because they have no hope for resolve. But even if one person stops to explore new perspectives or even one’s own attitudes and/or actions, there is progress. Education is key. 🙂 Annie

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so right, Annie. It’s our ability to ponder, to hear more than one side of an issue, to consider multiple facets, that help us to come together to solve problems and resolve dilemmas. Too little of that these days, isn’t there?

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      • Absolutely. You are not required to subscribe to everything you read, hear or see… but it widens your scope as you explore new ideas. It is up to you to be an educated consumer of information and to dig deeper… that is the power of participating in the search for knowledge. Have a great week! 🙂 Annie

        Liked by 1 person

        • You are so right … the key here is education, or the willingness and ability to do some research, look for facts, don’t believe everything you’re told. We need so much more of that today, and yet … our schools seem intent on turning out cookie-cutter automatons who understand little and care even less. You have a great week too, my friend! I hope it’s cooler where you are than it is here … 94° for the next few days. Blugh.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Change the word black to red, and you know you are in Canada. Change president to pope, and you know what the Catholic Church is doing for the people whom they abused in Residential Schools for over a century. I am not saying throwing oney at people like our dgovernment did solves any problem, but it is more tangible than “I am sorry.” First Nations people on numerous reserves in Canada still do not have clean drinking water, in 2022. Housing on ost reserves is the same house built hundrrds of times on one resrve, hundreds of thousands across Canada. We are not worthy of having individually-styled hoyses, unless we build them ourselves. Jobs are just about non-existent, unless you know someone special. Teenage suicide rates on many reserves dwarf tose of white children. Post-secondary educatio is free for legal First Nations people, but who has a dood ebough grade school education to take advantage of it.
    There are success stories, but they are the exceptions that prove the rules.
    Last year Black people were given a national holiday. Last year indigenous people in Canada were given Aboriginal Day? Do you think that was a coincidence?
    Systems need to change. Anything else is useless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • am fully in agreement of most of what it stands for, but I have to ask myself if this isn’t already a little out of date.the whites as a race in Ameriica are virtually encouraged to look down on blacks and Latinos by culture but the ruling educated classes are also looking down on the poorer whites as a sub-group. They will only leave that group with a big win on the lottery and only so they can spend some time in the sun.to give others hope It will take a large win for the Democrats to have the means to amend the laws to protect all citizens, a large Majority in the Senate can allow them to put protection for these laws in place so The Republicans can’t demolish them.Only when the poor of all colours are made equal will Juneteenth have real meaning.

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      • Sigh. It is a sad statement that about half the people in this nation neither know nor care how Black people were treated until a relative few short years ago. Worse yet, that same half of the population would, I believe, regress to a state of slavery or at the very least Jim Crow, given half the chance. The fact that Blacks were emancipated, but many not told of that for years thereafter is a stain upon this nation, just as is slavery, our treatment of the Indigenous People to whom this land originally belonged, our treatment of the Japanese-Americans during WWII, the Tulsa Massacre, and so many more incidents that white people, especially of the Republican brand, try so hard to sweep under the rug. THIS is why I take the time and effort each year to highlight these things, because otherwise, half the population will never know of them.

        Yes, we still have a LONG way to go, and frankly we are headed backward, turned in the wrong direction when it comes to our many shades and forms of bigotry. My only hope is that by helping people understand our past, I can be some small part of making the future better, but in the last month or so, I’ve pretty much given that idea up. If people wish to destroy the human species, then so be it … let them. I don’t care anymore. Well … I DO care, but I’ve come to realize that my small voice makes not one iota of difference.

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