Americans celebrate two days of freedom and independence within 30 days of each other.
Juneteenth is celebrated around June 19 of each year. This day commemorates the moment in history when the last group of slaves were informed that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed and that they were, in fact, a free people. In 1865, this news of deliverance did not reach those slaves in Galveston, Texas, until two years after the signing of this decree of freedom.
Just seeing the Fourth of July written on any piece of paper or billboard, it is branded in our minds that this day is America’s Independence Day. But who do we envision when we think of Independence Day? Are we seeing all humans who call this great land home, or have our minds been branded to envision the select group who resemble the authors of this great document of freedom for all?
Are all Americans able to live and feel the intended patriotic freedom? When the few gather to celebrate Juneteenth, are they joined by others who cherish freedom for all? Is this the expected freedom of 1865?
In 1865, as the news of freedom reached the physically enslaved Negro, their beaten-down spirits peered through the darkness of uncertainty, gleaming a flicker of hope and a promise of equality that they knew that they themselves would likely never experience. This newly freed caravan of humans must have experienced a feeling of unease as they moved toward a place they sang about and longed for during the suffocation of slavery.
The American poet Emma Lazarus wrote, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” It was the freeing of the last plantation of slaves that birthed a reason for all Negroes to celebrate, but not all Americans were celebrating. Even some of the Americans of 1776 who wanted political freedom and the freedom to worship would not have participated in celebrating the breaking of the chains of bondage for their fellow man.
The newly freed slaves could see a generation of people living in the prosperity of all that America had to offer. They envisioned generations of Negroes who would not cower down and be defeated because the hope of freedom had arrived. Their mind’s eye could see generations of a people who would hold their heads high with the freedom to choose their destiny.
For the slaves of 1865, not being owned by another human meant reclaiming the soul of their minds. Our minds are said to be the pinnacle of God’s creation.
The freedom of 1776 was a declaration that all men are born equally free and independent with certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights.
In 2016, the United States of America has its first African-American president, finishing his second term as commander-in-chief. Barack Obama’s presidency served for many as a manifestation of the hope of these promises being fulfilled, the freedom of chains broken, an African American who could look up without being beaten with whips nor facing threats of a rope and a tree.
The authors of the 1776 declaration of rights and the Negro of 1865 knew they needed separation and deliverance from the rule of others and oppression. But Americans of 2016 are oblivious to the bondage caused by the influence of the media, unhealthy foods, a toxic environment, a for-profit prison system, an integrated education system and a financial system allowing strategically placed payday loan businesses to create wealth by keeping our most vulnerable population at the bottom of the heap.
Today, members of this generation of free Americans are more likely to be killed by gun violence in their homes or in the streets than at any other time in the history of this country. Do hard-fought efforts to carry weapons that kill other humans represent freedom or bondage?
Every statistic about progress in the U.S. puts African Americans in last place. Every statistic about health disparities, poverty, incarceration and death rates puts African Americans at the top of the list. This is a new slavery, a new rule where there is no segregation and no physical signs that read “Whites Only.” In 2016, who will awaken the souls and the minds of this free generation, breaking the chains of this mental bondage?
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.” Can we hear the sound of freedom or is it muzzled by the noise of the few that put African Americans last, but definitely not free?
— Pamela D. Koons lives in Gainesville.