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.
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:
- When Were Blacks Truly Freed From Slavery? (The Root)
- Celebrating Juneteenth: Were We Really Freed? (Clutch)
- History of Juneteenth (National Registry Juneteenth Organization & Supporters)