Largely unknown to the overall U.S. population, Juneteenth is the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States and celebrated each year on June 19th throughout the country.
June 19, 1865, is the date that Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger established the Union Army’s authority over the territory of Texas. It was the date also when he issued an order that freed the 250,000 enslaved men, women and children in what would become the Lone Star State.
The enslaved people learned from Granger’s announcement that they were liberated, and their relationship with their masters at that point and moving forward was as “employer and hired laborer.” The order was issued a full two-and-a-half-years after the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect on January 1, 1863, after being signed by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862.
These dates are not only conflicting, but they tell the story of our country’s deep relationship with the institution of slavery, the fractured relationship of the states to the federal government – which seems to have reemerged today – and the power of narrative where the official record is the one told by the winners and not the “losers.”
However, this has never stopped the marginalized from challenging official narratives.
As I reflect on the meaning of Juneteenth, I consider our ancestors and celebrate when the last formally enslaved African Americans were freed and considered citizens (Americans) by federal law. However, as I think about how far we’ve come as a demographic group, as a community and as a country, I clearly see the continued racial and economic inequality perpetrated in the United States.
The National Urban League’s report Locked Out: Education, Jobs and Justice makes it clear that we are not in a post-racial society and that African Americans (and those identified as being of African descent) are at a disadvantage in this country. There seems to be a collective process of intentional “un-remembering” at play in our social consciousness, for non-Blacks and even some Blacks – with media of all types contributing to a distortion of the the facts (that are indeed out there if one did the research on their own).
Too often opinions become facts. And the real facts are buried by those who have the power and privilege to bury them to absolve themselves of accountability, guilt or a century’s worth of grief.
Slavery by Another Name
I argue that the call to consider the master-slave relationship as one of “employer-laborer” in Galveston in 1865 became less of a metaphor immediately following the Reconstruction era. Slavery by Another Name is illustrative of how real the comparison became. A good example is that of the prison-industrial-complex at all levels (county/city, state, federal) which can be considered modern day slavery – for the poor and, disproportionately, for the Black and Brown.
We must deal with the complex language, complex history and complex feelings that are brought up in discussing the intersectionality of race and class, which is tied inextricably to the country’s economic dependence on slave labor. Only then will we be able to come to terms with the past, and the vestiges of the institution of slavery that still exist today.