Why Juneteenth is more important than ever

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Black Americans are a community of people that have endured abominable levels of trials, abuse and tribulations. Our experience in this country includes rivers of blood, mountains of sweat and countless numbers of anguished tears.

As a Black American, I am descended from a people for whom the history of slavery, lynching, segregation, black codes, poll taxes, oppressive sharecropping systems and Jim Crow laws are historical facts deeply etched in the fabric of history. My ancestors were brought to America as slaves. I can only begin to imagine the sadistic and inhumane treatment they endured.

Juneteenth is a celebration acknowledging the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that all slaves were free. Later that year, on Dec. 6, the 13th Amendment was ratified by Congress, legally and officially ending slavery in the United States. One can only envision the jubilation that emanated from the community of former slaves.

Many slaved had already been freed two years earlier, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. But in the cradle of the slave-holding confederacy, such a truth refused to be recognized, and racial injustice against Black people in the south endured for another 100 years.

The purpose of Juneteenth is to acknowledge the atrocities of the past, and to educate current and future generations about the struggles of Black Americans, to ensure it will never be forgotten. Juneteenth also serves as a holiday to raise the level of consciousness and to educate Americans of all racial and ethnic groups about slavery in the United States.

Black Americans have long been on the frontline for freedom from racial tyranny. We have been the victims of centuries of discrimination, racial hatred, state-sanctioned violence, a fiercely hostile criminal justice system and numerous other indignities, impositions, and injustices. It is due to this confluence of scurrilous factors that we recognize the necessity of acknowledging a holiday that pays homage to one of the most pivotal moments in the history of Black America, as well as American history in general. Its roots in the reflection of the past offer valuable learning experiences and the opportunity for racial healing.

Today, Black Americans have seen members of its community become congressmen, governors, senators, Oscar winners, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, billionaires, secretaries of state, and even president and vice president of our country. Despite these triumphs, we have also witnessed increasing poverty rates, heightened white supremacist, profoundly obscene incarceration rates, and other social maladies that threaten to erode (if not outright erase) the gains accumulated over the past half century.

As we celebrate Juneteenth this year, we must keep in mind the ideas and promises of freedom alone are not enough to either sustain or propel us. We must celebrate the holiday in the years to come with the unrelenting intent to rectify the pervasive inequality that remains with us long after that liberating day in June 1865.

Copyright 2023 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.