Juneteenth and the End of Legal Slavery

Juneteenth and the End of Legal Slavery

When we are honoring our history, we must consider whose story we are honoring and make sure we are honoring all stories not just his-story.

During my childhood I never heard anyone suggest we should celebrate the end of slavery. We celebrated the coming of Columbus to the Americas, our Presidents and even recognized the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed, but I never heard anyone suggest we should celebrate the end of the legal practice of human slavery. Shouldn’t the end of something as evil as legal slavery be celebrated?

(side note: while it is no longer legal, slavery hasn’t ended. More people are enslaved today in the US than were enslaved when it was legal to do so. Slavery, like racism, has just gone underground: https://www.freetheslaves.net/).

Our traditions should model our values. They should talk about what we believe in and what we honor. It is past time we update some of our traditions to reflect values we believe in today. When we are honoring our history, we must consider whose story we are honoring and make sure we are honoring all stories not just his-story.  In that process it’s okay to let go of old practices that no longer suite our current values. It is okay to embrace new ways of understanding our world. It is part of recognizing our amazing ability as humans to grow and become better!

As a society we can embrace new traditions like Juneteenth, which is an abbreviation of June Nineteenth. It is a way to recognize and celebrate our ability to become a better society. For those who don’t know, Juneteenth marks the day Federal troops arrived in Galveston, TX to end the practice of legal slavery which had continued there despite the Emancipation Proclamation. It is considered the day slavery was officially ended in the US.

In an online article Gaylene Kanoyton, stated it well, “Juneteenth represents the end of slavery, but also symbolizes freedom.” I think it is important to create holidays that enshrine things like freedom. And it is important for even us white folks in the US to understand: we cannot be free when others are enslaved. As long as our country suppresses the rights of some people, we will always live under the threat of everyone’s rights being suppressed. Even more importantly, we cannot call ourselves a free people when there are those of use who are not free. The idea that it is okay to enslave some people has been used to enslave differing groups of people forever, and as long as we continue to accept slavery as a part of human activity (even if it is something happening to those people over there), it is something that can happen to any of us.

In my last article I wrote about our love of human innovation, of how we have used our abilities to make amazing changes to our world (sometimes for the worst but often for the better). It is time for us to recognize that ending slavery everywhere is something within our grasp. We can have a world without slavery, but this will only happen when we start recognizing that the enslavement of anyone hinders our own freedom. We must end the ideology of slavery if we are to find freedom.

Meanwhile, we can add to our celebrations Juneteenth and recognize the step forward the US made in becoming a truly civil society when it ended legal slavery.

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