Today, I’m celebrating with my fellow Black and brown friends in Minneapolis for cookouts and music as we celebrate Juneteenth, the day when the last enslaved people in Texas were told they were free. On the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, we’re in the midst of an awakening. Millions of Americans are finally waking up to understand the injustice faced by communities of color not just in policing and the criminal justice system, but in housing, in education, and in employment.
I see communities coming together to demand justice and institutional transformation, and in that process I see people learning, both about the injustices of today and about how our histories have shaped the world we live in now. Part of what I see people learning is that the history of America that they were taught in school is not always the full or accurate history of America. Too often, the “official” history of America neglects to chronicle the continuing struggles for equality and for freedom by Black and brown people across the nation. And in doing so, it’s easy to ignore how systemic injustice, inequality, and racism persist to this day.
There is perhaps no better example of this partial history than the story of Juneteenth. Juneteenth marks the anniversary of June 19th, 1865, the day the last enslaved Black people of Texas were informed of their freedom. This is surprising to many people, most of whom learn that enslaved Black Americans were freed by President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which took effect more than two years earlier, on January 1, 1863. Or at the very latest, most think that enslaved Black people were freed with the surrender of the Confederacy at Appomattox, VA, two months before Juneteenth on April 9, 1865.
The official histories suggest that the freedom of Black people is linear — an event that we can pinpoint in time. On the left side of the timeline: slavery; on the right side: freedom. Instead, what the history of the holiday of Juneteenth reminds us is that freedom was and is still in many ways an ongoing struggle. Rather than a straight line, freedom is more akin to an arc. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. similarly described a moral universe as an arc that “bends towards justice.” We are still on the path towards freedom.
What the protests over the last month—following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Tony Mcdade, Riah Milton, Dominique ‘Rem-mie’ Fells, and too many others—have shown is that Black and brown families around the country are still seeking true freedom. This is a reality despite so many of our history textbooks portraying the Civil Rights movement as having ended in victory in 1965.
My family’s story is deeply rooted in that painful and often forgotten history of the struggle for freedom in America.. I am the descendant of former slaves. My parents were civil rights’ pioneers that fought for equity in education and housing. I am proud of that family history. My ancestors’ sacrifice empowers me and so many others to have a place in this country and voice in this movement for true freedom.
This Juneteenth, I want us to embrace the full history of America. Understanding the full history of America is necessary, to paraphrase Frederick Douglass, to rouse the conscience of the nation, so that we can realize America’s ideals of equity and opportunity for all.
You can read my Community Justice Agenda here.