Opinion

Juneteenth: Freeish since 1865

The CP Edit

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Juneteenth, in its second year as a national holiday, demarks the end of slavery in the U.S. in 1865 — when Major General Gordon Granger issued orders to free the over 250,000 African American slaves in Galveston, Texas. These slaves had not yet been informed of the Emancipation Proclamation even though the Civil War had ended months prior. Juneteenth has been recognized in our community for many years and the outpouring of joy and reflection has evolved over time. In the early 1990’s, Juneteenth festivals at Mask Memorial CME Church, Benjamin Davis Park and St. Joseph Park commemorated the date with food, speakers and activities for young and old. In 2005, advocacy by the Lansing Juneteenth Committee led to state recognition of Juneteenth National Freedom Day, making Michigan the 18th state to recognize the holiday. Today, in our community, several celebrations promote the history and culture of African Americans. Among them, the Lansing Juneteenth Committee hosts activities at St. Joseph Park and the 517 Juneteenth Festival takes place in REO Town. 

 But what does it mean to be free? Does it go beyond celebrating a moment in history that ended 400 years of diabolical treatment of other humans? Yes, we welcome the Juneteenth celebrations, particularly those that are community-based. However, does the community as a whole support the fight for liberation beyond the celebrations? We want more for our African-American brothers and sisters than just tokenistic examples of a liberated community. We want more than just culturally appropriated merchandise — ice cream and coffee mugs adorned with Juneteenth in a festive font in the same co-opted fashion as Cinco de Mayo.  

The original fight was simply for freedom from bondage. But the fight of the 21st century is one for liberation — movements that began in the 1960s with civil rights, continued with Black Power, and lives today in the Black Lives Matter. Yes, African Americans are free from slavery’s shackles, but today descendants of slaves are disproportionately un(der)employed, limited to meagre housing or educational options, denied access to healthy food or quality care, and, in the worst scenarios, African Americans are more likely to be victims of police brutality or forced back into shackles in the prison system.  The current free-ish state of African Americans is a limited, truncated version of liberty.  

So often, the words freedom and liberty are used interchangeably, and we think this Juneteenth holiday is an excellent opportunity to shed some light on the difference between those two very important words: The main difference between liberty and freedom is that while freedom is the right to act, speak, or think as one wants (an internalized construct), liberty is the absence of  oppressive restrictions by authority on one’s way of life (a socialized construct). 

Liberty  v. Freedom  

What they represent from our past 

The U.S. Constitution was amended to include freedoms for Black Americans. In 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. In 1868, the 14th Amendment established African Americans as full citizens, and in 1870, the 15th Amendment guaranteed voting rights to African Americans. These three cornerstones of freedom for African Americans were crucial building blocks for future iterations of racial, social, financial and educational progress within the Black community.  But, similarly to many symbolic gestures and celebrations, the daily reality of what Juneteenth represents is much more complex.  

Where/when they are manifested in our society and selves 

In our community, we have the right to protest police brutality in other places and join the Black Lives Matter movement. However, we also have had over-reactive responses during these same protests, we have had young men shot by police, and we have other youngsters who see no viable pathways to a productive life and instead choose drugs and violence. These are not indicative of what we deem to be a liberated community.  

Our community also has bright stars like Moneyball Sportswear, a great example of contextualize the Juneteenth celebration into a larger movement and conversation about Black liberation.  Yes, they have wonderful shirts that say “Free-ish,” but Moneyball is an African-American-owned franchise, embedded in the local community that maintains a consistent presence with a positive message for communities and people of color, particularly in organizing youth events. Juneteenth is every day for Moneyball Sportswear.   

How they might be employed differently for our future  

Building on past examples of African American success, Afrofuturism explores the heritage of the African-American diaspora and connects it with imaginations of liberation through economic development and culture. Consider the Harlem Renaissance, Idlewild and Tulsa’s Black Wall Street and think about what investing in future iterations of excellence could look like with more African Americans granted real access to capital and while also being supported by the entire community. 

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