“Slavery is America’s Original Sin.” – Jim Wallis, Sojourners’ magazine
Today is June 19th. On this date in 1865, the last group of slaves were officially informed of the Emancipation proclamation Lincoln had executed a year and a half earlier. It has come to symbolize the official end of slavery in America. People of Color have been celebrating Juneteenth since 1866. It deserves to be a national holiday, recognizing an important step in the maturing of this nation.
The chattel slavery of Africans has been a part of the story of this continent for four hundred years. As the colonies chafed under British rule and moved toward declaring independence, slavery was core to that discussion. There were strong abolition voices in the debate, especially from the northern colonies, but in the deep south, the plantation system of huge farms growing commodities for export was not economically viable without slave labor. Moral and religious objections to slavery were muffled under the pressure of massive profits. In an attempt to mollify the southern colonies and induce them to join the revolution, slavery was accepted; a deal to allow slavery to continue for the sake of expediency.
That deal with the devil of slavery did not silence the abolition voices. Nearly a century later, the issue came to a head, and southern states rebelled against the nation. The rhetoric from rebellious states was that this was an issue of “States’ Rights” but the only right these states ever cared about was the right for one person to keep another person as property. Schools in the south taught, maybe still teach, a very different version of this story; a false narrative that glorifies rebellion against the nation of the United States, and virtually ignores the fact that this war ended in the surrender of the rebels and the ratification of Union of all the states.
The end of slavery corrected a sinful error on the part of the original framers; its satisfaction deserves to be celebrated as a national holiday by every citizen because it has more impact than the events celebrated by every other national holiday with the possible exception of Independence Day itself.
Half a century after the defeat of the rebellion of the southern states, white supremacist forces began erecting statues and monuments to honor the leaders of the rebellion. The statues were symbols openly intended to intimidate people of color, reminders of a white majority who held power and intended to keep all people of color from claiming any share of that influence in their communities. If you take the effort to read the accounts from that era, there will be no doubt that these monuments are intended to be racist, white supremacist symbols, threats of violence against people of color.
If you are white and grew up in the south, you have been indoctrinated into a narrative that denies these truths and pretends these monuments are about honoring history. That is an absolute lie. They intend to honor slavery and rebellion; a rebellion which failed. If you are white and grew up in the Midwest, you may not have had the experience of enough racial diversity to understand how the legacy of slavery continues to play out in other areas. If you are a person of color, you have experienced the threats of violence, the continuing animosity of white supremacy all your lives. Enter the halls of legislatures or drive down the main streets of any southern town and you are forced under the shadows of these symbols of racial violence and glorification of slavery. If you are a person of color, you know exactly why these symbols of oppression should be removed from public glorification.
We are one hundred and fifty-five years past the point when the demolition of slavery should be celebrated as a national holiday. Slavery is an unmitigated evil which is a part of our national shame. Celebrate the victory over this moral evil on Juneteenth. Tear down the symbols that attempt to glorify slavery and rebellion. Confine those symbols to museums so that generations to come will learn about how evil is perpetuated. Perhaps our great-grandchildren will be spared the repeating violence by one race over another.
Celebrate Juneteenth as a holiday commemorating all of us being released from the evils of slavery; and resolve that all traces of racism will be rooted out and scrubbed from the American culture forever.