A note on Juneteenth

Thursday, June 17, 2021
This Saturday is Juneteenth. It is a date I’ve always felt a little odd about. The date commemorates the moment when news of emancipation finally reached the many people laboring under enslavement in Texas: two and half years AFTER the Emancipation Proclamation.  We are celebrating the date that a big lie was revealed. The enslavers knew slavery was over; the enslaved did not.

I do not wish to take away from the joy experienced by so many on that day long ago in 1865—freedom is freedom and so wonderful that it came! There must have been rejoicing at a scale I cannot even imagine. But I can’t get over the fact that the freedom was two and a half years overdue. Two and a half years more of forced labor, forced separation of families and abject cruelty. Against the backdrop of this current moment in which legislatures across the country are seeking to ban the teaching of The New York Times’ 1619 Project and critical race theory; in this moment when we have just acknowledged the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa massacre of Black Wall Street—well, the irony is stunning. Too many in this country want to continue to believe lies, especially about our country’s origins, although we have plenty of modern lies floating around as well. Black Lives Matter is a phrase and concept that must continually be asserted as a reminder when so much in this country would tell us otherwise.

I believe in freedom. For Black people, trans people, women, immigrants, religious minorities—everyone who has been made marginalized. And, also, everyone. I believe you do, too. What I want you to know is that we at ACLU-WA will continue to fight for that liberation. Setting aside the tragedy of the two-year delay, I claim the victory of freedom those people experienced on June 19, 1865, and I commemorate the celebratory spirit of their release from bondage. And I will be relentless—along with our brilliant staff; our passionate members, donors and friends; our community partners, especially impacted communities facing harm—to right the wrongs, to tell the truth and to ensure a more fair and just environment for everyone.

Today, President Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Far more important to me, personally, than a national holiday would be a country in which we stop actively suppressing the right to vote, end mass incarceration, hold our governments accountable for the surveillance, over-policing, and law enforcement-related deaths of Black, Indigenous and people of color across America, and so on. These are all issues we work on, and we will not stop until freedom comes.

The Yoruba word Ashe may be translated as “power, command and authority.” The ability to make whatever one says happen, often summarized as “so be it,” “so it is,” or “it definitely shall be so.” In honor of Juneteenth, I urge your support of HR 40 and a Commission on Reparations. I urge your engagement with all activities for Juneteenth and beyond, which commemorate the truth and work toward wholeness for our country and all our people, regardless of their identities, favored or not. I ask for your continued support for justice and equity for all. Black Lives Matter. Ashe.