Happy Juneteenth (I think) – Let’s Get Free

So for those who don’t know and those who do, today is Juneteenth, the day in which many African Americans have come to celebrate the day that slavery officially ended.  Although Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation proclamation in 1863, slaves in Texas had no idea slavery had ended.  As such, they were still carrying on with business as usual.  Until, that is, soldiers arrived on June 19, 1865 to read a decree ordering the freeing of slaves in the state.  This date is now known as Juneteenth.  Although widely celebrated in Texas, many Black folks (much less anyone else) do not recognize, know about, or celebrate Juneteenth.

From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Historical Register

I’m all for celebrating important historical moments, especially those that mark empowerment for my people.  However, Juneteenth always has me feeling some kind of way because I cannot say with real conviction that we, as a people, have truly achieved freedom.  After all, what does it mean to be free?  What is this “freedom and justice for all” that the Pledge of Allegiance espouses?  Is it the right to vote?  The right to be educated as you see fit?  Is it simply the ability to live your life as you see fit, without the restrictions, impositions, or control of another? Well, as with so many other concepts and social constructs, freedom has had many definitions.  But regardless of how it’s defined, one thing I can say without reservation is that freedom is an absolute.  It either is or it isn’t.  As Nelson Mandela says, “There is no such thing as part freedom.”  Nina Simone offers her definition:

And although Roosevelt officially outlawed slavery in 1941 (78 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, mind you), I would assert that freedom is still an evasive commodity for many Black folks.  More of our men are in prison than any other race; our children are suspended, expelled, punished, charged and convicted at higher rates than other youth.  Our women battle self-hatred, poverty, glass ceilings, and sexual victimization.

Oppression is still very much a real component in the black experience.  A black man (regardless of dress, position, or celebrity) can’t hail a taxi and is even arrested on suspicion of robbery for trying to get in his own house.

In honor of Juneteenth, I must push the envelope on the privileges I do have (education, motherhood, housing, citizenship) to fight for a liberation of my mind, spirit, and body.  And I do mean fight; not request, propose or suggest.  More and more, I realize freedom must be demanded and taken; I have yet to find an oppressor who truly feels an incentive to free the oppressed.  Even as I wrote that statement, the sting of its pessimism hits me, but I will take the liberty to be brutally honest here.  After all, the truth is supposed to set us free, right?

Do you feel free?  What brought you to this liberation?  How do you maintain and protect it? Can it be achieved individually or must we mobilize?

This is daunting, but not defeating.  Let’s get free.  Take us home, Nina.

More articles on Juneteenth:


3 thoughts on “Happy Juneteenth (I think) – Let’s Get Free

  1. Amira says:

    I teach U.S. Citizenship with immigrants and refugees for a non-profit agency on Wednesday nights. We talk in depth about this concept of “freedom” pretty regularly, as it’s something that shows up over and over again in this murky concept of what it means to be an American. Many of my students agreed upon the idea that freedom means we’re entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as Thomas Jefferson so clearly states in the Declaration of Independence. Because I hate simple answers and enjoy rattling the cage as often as possible, I like to bring up the point that Jefferson himself was a slave owner (among other things), and how he meant for this idea to apply to white, protestant, land-owning men. My students argue that the idea itself is a sound one, but that it has been necessary for us, as Americans, to open up the definition to include ALL people. As one of my students from Mexico put it, “not all of America’s work is finished.”

    In seeing this issue through the eyes of a roomful of people who have been willing to leave so much of what they’ve known behind in order to permanently attach themselves to this country (of which I am pretty critical), I’ve begun to look at freedom as a constant struggle that is never finished. It will never be finished. We have to keep fighting, though we will never be free. And maybe that’s the point. Struggle. Growth. As I say in the other classes I teach, “Excellence is only achieved through adversity.” We must pursue challenges in order to become better. True liberation will never be handed to us, and those folks out there who think they ARE free, are deluded. We don’t have freedom. All we have are choices. We don’t have an option NOT to choose. The struggle to make ourselves better is much more difficult than the struggle to make ourselves worse, but both options require effort.

    And since you brought up Nelson Mandela….

    “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of that glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.” NM

    1. brown betty says:

      Thank you, thank you, thank you! As always, I love your comments. The classroom is fertile ground for teasing out the complex layers of living in America. I so agree that there isn’t a final destination with freedom. Even if specific levels are achieved, it will always be a fight to maintain them, OR there will always be those groups needing allies/advocates to fight alongside them for their liberation. Maybe one of these days I’ll get to meet these fabulous students I keep hearing about! As always, thanks for reading. Don’t be a stranger.

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