On June 19, 1865, U.S. General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX to declare the conclusion of the civil war and the freedom of slaves. 155 years later on this Juneteenth, many wonder how free Black people truly are.

Each year, forty-six states and the District of Columbia recognize June 19 (Juneteenth) as a state holiday, and also refer to it as “Emancipation Day”. But the historical day of freedom actually isn’t quite clear, as the abolition of slavery has taken multiple different forms over the years.

155 years later on this Juneteenth, many wonder how free Black people truly are.

On the original Juneteenth, slaves in Texas had technically been free for two years prior, after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

But despite what you may have learned in history class, Lincoln’s address only freed slaves of Confederate states, which didn’t include the 4 million additional slaves in border states. His message also took time to travel across the country and delayed each state’s individual effective day of abolition.

And actually, it wasn’t until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 when the horrific institution of slavery was formally abolished in the U.S Constitution.

This blurry line of when slavery actually ended is the exact debate that this country is still addressing today.

While slavery, in its technical sense, was abolished in 1865, it later took new legal definitions within “Black Codes” and “Jim Crow Laws” that still subjugated Black people within the system.

On April 3, 1964, in Cleveland, Ohio, the great Malcolm X gave the speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” in which he said, in part, “I’m not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my plate, and call myself a diner. Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner unless you eat some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American.”

“Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American. Why, if birth made you American, you wouldn’t need any legislation; you wouldn’t need any amendments to the Constitution; you wouldn’t be faced with civil-rights filibustering in Washington, D.C., right now.”

Some have even criticized the current system of mass incarceration within the United States, claiming that it is a reformed and modern-day version of slavery.

Although Malcolm X gave this speech in 1964, his words are still applicable to the state of our country.

Just this year, lynching was ruled a federal crime. Lawmakers had tried to outlaw the act almost 200 times before, and even when legislation passed on February 26th, four House representatives still opposed it.

Some have even criticized the current system of mass incarceration within the United States, claiming that it is a reformed and modern-day version of slavery.

In his book, titled Death and Other Penalties: Philosophy in a Time of Mass Incarceration, James A. Manos writes that “the United States incarcerates the largest population in the history of the world.”

And of this disproportionate rate of imprisonment in America, he writes that the systemic economically disadvantaged Black community is affected the most.

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The conditions of these penitentiaries are what’s particularly concerning. While incarcerated, some U.S. prisons have had more cases of the Coronavirus than entire countries, and prisoners are oftentimes pressured into hard work for barely any pay.

So, in a nation that is still not free, this Juneteenth in 2020 feels heavier.

“Although prison work assignments are voluntary, those who refuse or are unable to work suffer significant consequences,” Manos writes. Incarceration labor is argued to be how US criminal justice policies have worked around the verbiage of the 13th Amendment that condemns “involuntary servitude.” The average prisoner’s minimum wage is 86 cents per hour, and once inmates are released, they can be limited on what they can spend this money on for the rest of their lives. Released prisoners can also lose some freedoms granted to Americans like voting, which disproportionately represses Black people.

In fact, President Trump, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on June 18, said Juneteenth “was an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.” He was apparently unaware that his administration has previously commemorated the day.

So, in a nation that is still not free, this Juneteenth in 2020 feels heavier.

Black men, women, and children are still lynched in broad daylight with, too often, no accountability for their murderers.

We are still gerrymandered and redlined into poverty.

We are still held by the shackles of this country’s prison system.

We are killed by a pandemic at three times the rate of white people.

The Ku Klux Klan is still in operation.

We are not free.

Since the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day of this year, hundreds of thousands of protesters around the world have marched every day for the same types of civil rights that Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells, and many other revolutionaries fought for years ago.

We are not free.

Of course, we’ve seen some change. Racism has recently been declared a public health crisis by health organizations. Certain Confederate monuments have been removed. Some police stations have reformed policies that harm marginalized communities.

It may be Juneteenth, but in 2020 we are still not free. We still have a long way to go.

So, no, we are not the same America that didn’t allow school integration or marriage equality. We have come a long way in many different regards.

But as Malcolm X said in “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech, “How can you thank a man for giving you what’s already yours? How then can you thank him for giving you only part of what’s already yours? You haven’t even made progress if what’s being given to you, you should have had already. That’s not progress.”

It may be Juneteenth, but in 2020, we are still not free.

We still have a long way to go.


https://thetempest.co/?p=140858
Tori B. Powell

By Tori B. Powell

Editorial Fellow