Today is Juneteenth.
I’m 2 weeks shy of being 62 years old, and I’ve never heard of Juneteenth. Have you?
What does my ignorance of this day say about me? About our culture?
July 4, 1776, celebrates the day white Americans became free. Enslaved black Americans were not free on that day. Abolitionist and formerly slaved American, Frederick Douglas pointed out the exclusionary and elitist nature of the Declaration of Independence in these words, in a speech delivered at 4th of July celebration on July 5, 1852:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer – a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license, your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless…your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
Wow. Here were a bunch of white people gathered for hot dogs and ice-cream – or the 1852 version of 4th of July foods – ready to bask in the glory of their country’s birthday! Everyone is having a good time. So proud.
Then Frederick Douglass’s gave this speech. Talk about “raining on someone’s parade.”
Notice his use of the word, “Your.”
“Your national greatness…”
“Your shout of liberty and equality…”
“Your prayers, hymns, sermons, religious parade…”
Douglass, in the custom of all prophets, revealed the truth. He placed before people who had chosen not to see, whose culture had created a blindness, a stark image of the way it really was. His audience knew only their side of the Greatest Experiment of Freedom, known as the United States of America. He showed them another side. He showed them that they did not really believe that “all were created equal.” The land of the free was their’s, not his. People like him were not free.
It was almost 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that on January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, eliminating slavery (at least legally – certainly not practically).
It was a full two years later that the word of freedom got around to the enslaved.
Was the delay due simply to the fact that they didn’t have Apple News?
Or was the reason for the delay a bit more nefarious? Did the slave owners keep the news hidden? “Let’s not tell them they are free.”
It’s a question worth asking.
On June 19, 1865, slaves in bondage in the South got the news when Union Army Major General Gordon Granger and his soldiers landed in Galveston, TX to spread the word that slavery had officially ended in America.
Do the math. Face the facts.
White America is celebrating 242 years of freedom this year.
Black America is celebrating 153 years of freedom:
64 years of freedom from legalized segregation,
54 years of legalized freedom from legalized discrimination.
I write “legalized” because segregation and discrimination have not been eradicated from our hearts or communities.
Open our eyes. Open our ears.
See and hear what’s happening around us – outside of our bubble.
Feel something as you read the story of Langston Glaude.
Ask, “Am I as blind to what is going on around me as were the people addressed by Frederick Douglass?
Are we, as a nation, treating others “with liberty and justice for all?”
Celebrate July 4. But also celebrate today, June 19, “Juneteenth.”