On this day, June 19, 1865, the lawful practice of slavery in these United States of America was officially abolished, terminated, never-more. This is a very important day in our national history, but you can almost bet that very, very few people know the meaning-the significance- of this date in the lives of not only people of color, African-Americans, but for white Americans.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865
We all are aware that holding African people in bondage was a common legalized practice involving the grossly inhumane treatment of people of color, Africans, from the very founding of this nation. To date, we remain a nation unwilling to reflect, examine, reconcile or teach about this major part of U.S. history. Yes, we do teach about slavery, pre-Civil War era in our nation’s K-12 public and private schools, but we spend a yearly average of one 40-minute instructional period fully devoted to this part of our nation’s past.
We neglect to tell children, at critical ages in their development, before their worldviews are rigidly formed, about the most horrible sins committed in this country. Yet, we explore, in great depth, the cruelties, genocide, and the inhumanities of other countries against its own people. Our versions are cloaked under the umbrella of extremist religious beliefs or political ideologies to explain the rise of ‘terrorism’ and ‘radicalization’ of their citizenry. Quite the irony, though! According to news sources and political propaganda, the internal strife within foreign nations have existed maybe 50 years, at best.
Our inhumane treatment of other human beings, our citizenry, 1/4 citizenry, persisted more than 246 years. That is generation upon generation of the practices, policies, procedures,, and perspectives, which, by now, are deeply entrenched in this nation’s collective consciousness. In the state of Texas, for example, post Civil War, they continued to enslave blacks for at least three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was officially signed. It wasn’t until two years later that ‘slaves’ were freed. That is but one such example of the refusal to relinquish such powers over others as a way of life. Entitlement?
Before the 1st draft of our U.S. Constitution, upon which we still rely, and are governed by, there were enslaved humans in America. When the pilgrims arrived on this soil, as political refugees, explorers and immigrants, they brought Africans with them. They were not met with savages as some wanted others to believe. They encountered indigenous peoples already living and inhabiting the country. In 1865, slavery was no longer a legally sanctioned practice in the slave holding states, but the practice did not end there, on that very day or in that same year.
In the minds of many whites, they were entitled to ‘own’ people as property. They had learned that in order to detach themselves from emotions, or empathy for these people, they had to convince themselves and everyone else that those practices were not wrong or cruel at all. Thus was borne negative imagery, stereotypes, and segregation, etc…. As we progressed a few more generations, people began to acknowledge some of those policies, rights and practices, decreed in our founding documents, were designed in preservation of the ‘acquired’ wealth, entitlement, privilege, and dehumanization of black people. It was immensely wrong, self-serving and sinful.
Pseudo-scientific research was provided to slave-owners and other whites. Even though free people, there was still resentment of these persons who no longer had to ‘obey’ as subservient pieces of property, in the cessation of free labor. I compare the subsequent actions, and residual discontentment with progress to a child who lost a former friend, and now that this person left, they wanted to prevent anyone else from becoming their friend. So, what kids do is they ‘bad-mouth’ that person-everywhere they went to prevent happiness, and make themselves feel better. Also, in the back of their minds are the hopes for their return. But, it doesn’t happen! This brought more anger, and so there was an escalation- laws like Jim Crow, voting restrictions, and a host of others. All enacted to keep black people from progressing in American society.
Here we are with unacknowledged, untaught, misunderstood HIS-story in the 21st Century, and there is divisiveness to no end. When you grow accustomed to a certain way of life, a way of looking at life and others, is that when things begin to change, we will often resist. It is not an easy challenge to exercise bravery and confront mistakes and then actually change that which goes against the very things we inherently understand are wrong. We make excuses, we pretend we don’t see it, we look to someone else should there be fault.
June-teenth is a significant day for the U.S., on par with The 4th of July. Independence day, yes! Independent of remnants, not yet! America has never been great, except at bullying and hood-winking others whom they quietly consider ‘inferior’, until the goals are met. At that point, friendship, camaraderie and supportive intent disappears. I love our nation, but we must take an honest look at ourselves, and try to take a look from someone else’s perspective in relation to that which we consider ‘different’ or ‘diversity’. Fortunately, we can get there. We can be great, but honesty, empathy, acceptance of fault and commitment to atone for our sins always precede greatness we desire to achieve.
It won’t be easy, but anything worth having is usually not very easy, simple or uncomplicated. We are worth it, we can and must cultivate the empathy required to broaden perspectives, reflect, revise, and reimagine the values upon which this nation was founded. With the sincere desire for a peaceful tomorrow, we must fully examine yesterday and begin the work today. This day in history can’t expect to be taught at home, for many know little to nothing of its significance. Therefore, it must be taught in our nation’s classrooms at school.
Our children don’t have to repeat the mistakes we have made. In order that they learn to act, believe and relate to one another differently, we must tell them exactly what the mistakes were, whom they harmed, how we have covered them up, and then they will better understand how to avoid them. We can end the cycle of injustice and falsely perpetuated narratives, when they are young. Teach age-appropriate truths, no omission of cause and effect in any aspect of life in America. Cultivate compassion and empathy, and out of these emotions comes tolerance, respect and appreciation of the historic symbolism of June-teenth. Thus, we grow as a people!
Bring Juneteenth to school!