In the era of COVID 19, celebrations are hard to come by. Thousands have begun gathering in restaurants, bars, and beaches without social distancing and masks, and those careless celebrations have been dampened by spikes in cases in a number of states. With July 4th on the horizon, even more will want to forget about social distancing and gather for picnics and fireworks. After all, we need to celebrate freedom from British rule, and freedom for all.
Really? Correction: freedom for white men.
Thanks to the Administration’s tone-deaf scheduling of a “come back” rally on the 19th of June, Juneteenth has become part in the vocabulary of many in the United States. Juneteenth is an important celebration of freedom, marking the end of slavery, and has, sadly, received little attention outside of the African American community until recently.
When General Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union soldiers arrived on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, TX, and announced that slavery had ended, a second Independence Day celebration began. With Black Lives Matter, awareness of Juneteenth has spiked and calls for making it a federal holiday have increased. Mary Elliott, Curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, states “Juneteenth is not simply a day for the end of slavery in the United States, but for the reflection on the history of slavery.”
Two significant events came together on June 19 in Tulsa. While many celebrated Juneteenth, the Greenwood massacre of May 31, 1921, was a dark shadow in the background. During that tragic event, white citizens looted and burned 1,000 Black-owned businesses and homes, killing 300 African Americans and destroying 35 blocks of property known as Black Wall Street. The Tulsa Race Massacre demolished the hopes and dreams of a successful future for Blacks in the city. According to the Guardian, public funerals were banned to avoid explosive gatherings, and insurance companies refused to compensate the victims.
As we reflect on the Greenwood massacre in Tulsa and the Juneteenth celebration of an end to slavery, the revival of Jim Crow-like laws, lynching, income inequality and voter suppression continue to be part of the discussion. Discussions of reparations need to be front and center, reflected in the growing movement in the United States.
Reparations could take the form of free college tuition for all African Americans, subsidized home mortgages, business start-up funds. The list of possible support is lengthy.
For reparations to happen, Congress must create a national commission on reparations, pass a bill and the President sign the bill.
The time for action is now. Make Juneteenth a federal holiday and pass a reparations bill that provides substantial financial support for African American citizens.