By Marnita Coleman
For more than 150 years, Juneteenth is commemorated in the annals of history because it represents the last brick of slavery to fall. On June 19, 1865, our forefathers were given the good news by Union Army General Gordon Granger, acting on behalf of the President of the United States, that slaves were granted freedom in the State of Texas! African Americans were to be immediately released from the conditions and terms of those who held them bound.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in 1863, the State of Texas had not surrendered to its decree. At that time, the American Civil War was raging. The Confederacy was made up of states whose main source of income relied widely on agriculture, planted and harvested by slaves. This was big, lucrative business so Texans held onto their slaves for as long as they could.
Exactly one year after African American independence was enforced, a group of freed slaves thought it necessary to commemorate the event that changed the trajectory of American history. Thus, Juneteenth was born.
It is interesting how slaves were supposed to be free and equal but were advised by the government to stay at their homes (owned by their former masters), and work for wages. They wouldn’t even receive support from the government to establish themselves.
In writing this article, I had a pleasant conversation about Juneteenth with a very bright, Hampton University graduate who made this profound statement, “Society picks and chooses what is acceptable from the African American culture.” In other words, until “society” gives the stamp of approval, African Americans may not have the go-ahead, like other ethnic groups, to freely embrace their culture. Seriously? Could it be that the slave owner mentality of “I still own you,” “You’re not entitled,” “What’s yours is mine,” and “You need me to survive,” still exists in the recesses of the minds of their descendants. This is control, suppression, and intolerance in its purest form.
In the 21st Century, it is unacceptable that African Americans have to proclaim, by way of protest, that Black Lives Matter. After 150 years of freedom, so-called equality, and significant contributions to the fabric of this country, African Americans are still struggling to push past the resistance of their white counterparts. Moreover, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital “National Poll on Children’s Health” (NPCH), published by the University of Michigan, has documented the number one concern of African American parents is racial inequality. From every vantage point – looking back, looking around, or looking ahead, racial inequality against African Americans is present and accounted for.
It is absurd that African American children, in a classroom setting, have been told they don’t speak or act “black” enough. It is offensive when society popularizes and embraces characteristics of African Americans like hairstyles (cornrows, braids, afros), body shapes (curves and buttocks), or facial features (voluptuous lips) that are endemic of the African American culture and claim them as their own. It is, as Mike Tyson would say, “ludicrous.”
In her 2016 run for the White House, Hillary Clinton stated to the mothers of slain African Americans of the Black Lives Matter Movement, to make an impacting change, you have to change legislation. To put it simply: protests are popular, forums are informative, but laws change the game. African Americans are dying in the street because they are African American; they are imprisoned at a disproportionate rate; and they are being removed and shut out of neighborhoods from gentrification and redlining. Am I being overly sensitive? Is it enough to celebrate freedom, education, and some achievements without equality? Shouldn’t we use freedom, education, and achievements to demand the right to equality? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!”
Juneteenth is a time of celebration and commemoration. Thousands of lives were lost in the struggle for freedom. For this, we owe our gratitude, however, it is not enough to just observe the day. This Juneteenth, contact your elected officials and tell them what type of legislation you want to see in the near future. Then, observe some festivity, if possible. Each community celebrates in different ways, prior to COVID, some traditional gatherings included barbeques, music, dance, art, and group discussions. Specifically, in Baltimore, wear your mask and join the Freedom Fest in Druid Hill Park, or other events of diverse kinds, from protests to rallies. Check online for locations and times.
Make this Juneteenth a day that changes the trajectory of your life and the next generation. Get up, get out, and remember that Black Lives Matter. Happy Juneteenth!
Marnita Coleman is an author and host of TheMarnitaShow.com. For more information, log onto TheMarnitaShow.com.
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