As we celebrate this historic Juneteenth Day . . .
As we honor our ancestors and their descendants without whose suffering, courage, and tenacity we would not be here to tell the tale . . .
As we pay homage to the estimated one hundred million African men, women, and children whose lives were seized and devoured by slavery . . .
We remember the true meaning of this day -- especially in these tremulous times.
Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, marks the ceremonial end of the reign of terror known as American slavery. On that day, Union soldiers reached the farthest outpost of the Confederacy, Galveston, Texas. They informed the last known people still enslaved that they were then and forever free. The spontaneous celebration that took place that day has been commemorated every year since in states, South and North.
Three years had passed since President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862.
246 years had passed since the first “twenty and odd” Africans enchained were brought to shore in Jamestown, Virginia "about the latter end of August, 1619" and traded for “victualls” (food) “at the best and easyest rates they could” (as noted, in passing, in the only historical record of the transaction).
246 years of unfettered commerce; of unchecked power; of unbridled greed, moral bankruptcy, and hypocritical piety.
There are those who will look upon that history, speak of "different times," and are wont to say: "But, slavery was legal then." Do we truly believe that those powerful enough to perpetuate and profit from such atrocities do not first give themselves cover?
There are those who will retreat from that history to the comfort of denial to declare, “I never owned a slave.” Come July Fourth will they renounce citizenship with, “I never carried a musket,” as though they have not been privileged by the legacies of both?
There are those who will retreat behind a veil of "objectivity," speak of the need for patience on the part of the victimized and marginalized to wax philosophical. "These things take time," they will say.
These things do take time. Yes. And, will never give it back. Four hundred years is time enough.
To honor those not-so-distant forbears of this Juneteenth Day, we must honor this too: for us, the living, our place in this land was staked in Jamestown; bought and paid for since 1619. There is a debt owed those ancestors; incalculable interest due.
So, what do we do now?
Particularly on this historic Juneteenth Day of celebration and commemoration . . .
Because we pay homage to the one hundred million lives stolen and squandered . . .
We hold high in remembrance what sustained them even as they suffered. We are the promises they made to themselves. We are their dreams.
© Janus Adams 2017, 2020