Juneteenth started local, the day celebrated by formerly enslaved people in Texas as they started their lives as freed people. June 19, 1865 was two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln declared the emancipation of slaves in the United States and two months after the formal end of the Civil War fought over that proclamation. It took a Union Army General, Gordon Granger, saying plainly and unequivocally that power relationships between masters and servants were indelibly altered in order for the reality of a new freedom to resonate in Galveston and beyond. Two and a half centuries of violent subordination were not, however, undone by a single act or proclamation. Not the British naval enforcement of the abolition of the slave trade in 1806. Not the Emancipation Proclamation. Not a bloody Civil War. And, tragically, not by the celebrations of Jubilee Day, as the holiday is sometimes called, in the nineteenth, twentieth, or twenty-first centuries.
Juneteenth 2020 is a stark reminder of the global persistence of racism, inequality, and pernicious anti-Black racism, more than a century and a half after Black Texans started celebrating June nineteenth as Freedom Day or Liberation Day. Memories of slavery and celebrations of freedom moved with migrants, survived Reconstruction and Jim Crow, touched the Harlem Renaissance and Chicago’s South Side, but never existed in a space where Black Americans were truly free: free from fear, persecution, or racism; free to work, worship, live, or love as they pleased.
Juneteenth is an American story, but it clearly resonates globally this year. In the past three weeks we have witnessed demonstrations in support of the US Black Lives Matter movement on every continent except Antarctica. Protesters responded with anger and horror to a White police officer killing George Floyd in public in Minneapolis. The worldwide outrage is deeper and more intimate than solidarity with Black Americans, though. In Brussels, London, Bristol, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, and Seoul, crowds in the street risked Coronavirus exposure not just to mourn George Floyd, but to demand a reconsideration of the connections between violence, racism, and the state in their own countries.
On Juneteenth, on behalf of our diverse membership, the officers of the WHA express our solidarity with the global protest movement in defense of the lives and dignity of all Black people. We recognize the role of systemic racism in the institutions where we teach, the cities where we live, and the communities we study. We pledge to work for a world in which we can celebrate Juneteenth as a historical step toward genuine liberation.
A luta continua.
Laura J. Mitchell, President
Jonathan Reynolds, Vice President
Maryanne Rhett, Secretary
Michele Louro, Treasurer