Photo by Hussain Badshah on Unsplash

Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, is the date African American slaves in Texas were informed they were freed from slavery — in theory. 

It was one month after the defeat of the Texas faction of the Confederate Army, who had been undefeated during the waning days of the Civil War. The African Americans learned they were free two years after the Emancipation Proclamation became law on January 1,1863. 

Juneteenth is still an emerging subtext in the historical American narrative, 156 years later. I randomly surveyed some of my peers, and over half had no idea what I was talking about. Juneteenth was never mentioned in any class I ever attended in public school. In fact, I was in my thirties, doing some leisurely reading the first time I was exposed to Juneteenth.

I imagine there is a steep learning curve all over America about this notable, but relatively obscure piece of Civil War History and Texas holiday celebrated by African Americans locally. 

But in this troubled time in our history, Juneteenth has a significant, reflective importance. The year old martyrdom of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, and the threat against the women’s right to choose, LGBTQIA rights, voter rights, freedom of speech, immigration, pay equity, etc. 

The difficult conversations about race in America have been met by a roiling, partisan push back in the age of Trump to maintain White privilege, patriarchy and the systemic oppression of those at the bottom.

Juneteenth speaks to the continued struggle and the ongoing quest for enfranchisement and all the rights and privileges attached thereto. 

It is significant to note that one year after George Floyd’s murder, there is a stalemate between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate over the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Just as significantly, Republican legislatures in at least 30 states have proposed criminalizing protests and shielding the police from accountability and legal penalties in the use of deadly force. 

This concerted consevative response is just more of the same as the nation’s political shape- shifting — the one step forward two steps back dance — on social justice issues that disrupt the status quo.

If the martyrdom of George Floyd was the nation’s inflection point, Juneteenth is the half-time and a stark reminder to be ever vigilant, engaged and organized in guarding against the dilution of our collective demands. 

Society asks us to forget, or at least get over the hurt. Are our memories only as important as the news cycle beamed into our homes? Are we supposed to let it go when legislation that benefits us falls flat in committee because of a small piece that the other side objects to? Politicians parse issues, creating divides between our Black, Brown and the poor White intersectionality, turning us against each other.  

Roe v. Wade is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time since a women’s right to choose became the law of the land. The review is a harbinger of the Trumpian Right’s continued quest to make America great again by rolling back a panoply of established law and moderate and progressive reforms. 

The proposed commission to investigate the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the nation’s Capitol was filibustered by Senate Republicans. 

Power and privilege has never yielded to the powerless, and for centuries the masses (both Black and White) have been deceived by the voodoo of Whiteness. None of the poor, huddled, immigrant masses who came to America when America was born identified as White until they came to America. The resurgent albatross of race and class is diametrically opposed to the very notion of democracy and freedom. 

The ascendancy of a xenophobic, narcissist reality TV personality to the highest office in the land, the martyrdom of George Floyd, the assault on the nation’s capital and the endangered status of social justice and democracy makes Juneteenth a priority. As we near Independence Day, it is an opportunity to reflect on the nation’s sacred document, the Declaration of Independence. 

The document not only exemplifies freedom from a British tyranny, it is an earnest expression of a destiny awaiting fulfilment. To be free now, and for all time from enemies foreign and domestic.

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Reginald Stephen

Reginald Stephen is a contributing writer for the Prison Journalism Project, currently serving a life sentence at Green Haven Correctional Facility in New York.