Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Juneteenth Everyone

Juneteenth celebrates the day in 1865 when enslaved African Americans were informed that the Civil War had ended and with it, their enslavement.

On June 19, 1865, the Union General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and announced the news. Texas was apparently the last part of the United States to be liberated, two and a half years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

Juneteenth is celebrated in many parts of the United States as well as other parts of the world, as the day when African Americans finally were free. Or rather, when the government finally got around to telling us we were free.

I ask myself, are we really free? Compared to our enslaved ancestors, of course we are. Reading Soul Survivors recently, I was reminded yet again of the daily brutality which the enslaved Africans faced and accepted as their lot.

Seeing the Maafa Photographs reminds me of the unspeakable conditions they endured when brought to the Americas as ships' cargo.

But remembering Stephen Lawrence, Rodney King, Cherry Groce, Cynthia Jarrett, Joy Gardner, and so many others, I have to ask, how free are we really? Too many white people in authority continue to want to treat us as objects, brutalise us and discourage us from enjoying the freedoms which are ours by right.

Last year, when I was verbally abused by a racist white man, the police did nothing to protect my freedom (see State of London – Policing).

I am reminded, too, of Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. After she had finally escaped and moved to the North, a white friend of hers bought her from her 'owners' in order to spare her any further harassment by them. But, she reports, although in enslavement she had sought her freedom, living in the North she came to realise that she was entitled to it - freedom was her birthright.

Soul Survivors also reminded me of the enslaved African people's determination to escape and to liberate their family members, whatever the cost.

We have never had an African President of the U.S.A. Many of our brothers and sisters on the Continent are living and dying in grinding poverty and losing their family members to preventable diseases. Many of us still deny that we are even Africans.

Next year, we shall commemorate the ending of the Transatlantic trade. What are we really celebrating? Is freedom not ours by right? And what do we need to do to really be free?

Juneteenth Resources:

African Heritage Resources:

See also: 2007 Commemoration

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