In his Juneteenth Day proclamation, California Governor Gavin Newsom started with a little history about why June 19 is credited as “Juneteenth Day.” The place where Union General Gordon Granger announced to the slaves of Galveston, TX that all slaves were free, Ashton Villa, has been preserved as a landmark. But in 2020 Juneteenth Day has much more significance than years past, or at least is becoming more significant to a large segment of American society that didn’t give it much thought until now.
Thousands of people across the United States are marching right now, to joyfully celebrate, but also to make clear the United States still has much work to do to fulfill the promise of Order Three, “And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.”
The proclamation only applied to slaves in the rebellious states, but the passage of the 13th Amendment would extend that freedom to all the people held in bondage.
Now, 155 years later, after Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, all the lynching and murders of men like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the nation is in the biggest racial equality movement since 1865. Spurred on by the murders of black men and women at the hands of police officers and vigilantes in the United States, people have been marching everywhere across the nation for more than three weeks. The protests show no sign of dissipating.
This could very well be a landmark moment in American history. Bills in both houses of Congress look to address the inequities of our criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Cities are dismantling their police departments and rebuilding them to serve the community, instead of looking like they are at war with the people they are meant to protect and serve.
The nation, along with the rest of the world, is going through a devastating pandemic that effects minority communities at a disproportionate rate than white communities, a result of the inequities in our society. How do we address those issues? If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it is who really is essential in our workforce and just how much we value their contributions to the operation of our society.
Why is it less important to help them financially during this crisis then the major corporations getting hundreds of billions in COVID-19 aid? The nation would fall apart if these essential workers decided they would not continue to keep this nation moving. Imagine a general strike by bus drivers, janitors, trash collection, meat-packing workers, grocery store and warehouse employees, food delivery app workers, and millions of other low income workers across America. Juneteenth Day is a reminder we need to change the entire system, not just law enforcement and criminal justice. Workers in all 29 ports in California have gone on strike for today. There will be no cargo going in or out of California’s ports on Juneteenth Day 2020.
Confederate iconography is being removed around the nation, except in Mississippi where white voters are holding on to the state flag which has a Confederate flag in it. But like civil rights, voting rights and integration in the 1960s, this too shall change. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Which, itself, comes from 19th century abolitionist Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister.
Until this year, this time of unending demonstrations, many felt that arc was not always bending towards justice. This could be a time when moral justice begins to bend towards a more equal society, where essential workers of all ethnicities and religions are recognized and paid in accordance with their essential labor. This could be a long summer of protest, but these people, many of whom are young and of many ethnicities, are determined to see the moral arc not only bend towards justice, but hit its mark of creating a new, just world.
July 4 may be Independence Day for the United States, but June 19 is Independence Day for African Americans. It needs to be observed as such and made a national holiday, with the same respect and considerations given over to July 4.
Juneteenth Day may be new to many White Americans, but the African Americans have been celebrating this day for 155 years. Now the rest of us are catching up. In 2020 we are seeing Black Lives Matter to people of all ethnicities. That’s change.
Top photo is a YouTube screenshot of Los Angeles protest
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