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What Does Juneteenth Really Mean?

In September 1954 I started the 5th grade at West Elementary School on Farragut Street in Washington, D.C. When I walked into the classroom, I immediately noticed that some of my classmates were black, which was quite a change because I had never before seen a black student in my school.

The D.C. schools, believe it or not, were segregated until the Court pronounced Brown v. Board in 1953, and since D.C. was federal property, the schools had to be integrated right away. They did it over two years – the first year they integrated a pilot school, the second year the entire D.C. school system changed.

My school, West Elementary, was the pilot school. So, I can honestly say that I was a student in the very first school where racial segregation was first abolished in the United States.

I always liked Jimmy Carter for one, simple reason – he pardoned the Viet Nam war resisters. I’ll always like Joe Biden if for no other reason (although there are plenty of other reasons) than he signed the bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. And now we have a remarkable, an extraordinarily remarkable video produced by the Annenberg program at U/Penn, which places Juneteenth within its proper historical context and deserves to be seen, indeed must be seen.

Incidentally, to show you what a real shithead he is, back in 2020 Trump’s campaign had to reschedule its first public rally after it was originally scheduled to occur on Juneteenth. And Trump had the nerve to actually state that his decision to re-schedule his event made Juneteenth ‘famous;’ otherwise, nobody even knew about that particular day.

The video makes an important point about the Civil War which rarely comes up for discussion, namely, the fact that some 200,000 black soldiers fought in the Union army during the war. They represented roughly 10% of the men who were under arms for the Union side, and the picture above is a black detachment at Fort Lincoln, which was one of the temporary fortifications built to guard Washington, D.C.

Despite all the talk about BLM and other issues having to do with race, I still don’t think we acknowledge the stain of slavery on the history of the United States. Because even though slavery was legally abolished in 1865, what is often not mentioned is that no other country developed a slave system which was as harsh as what existed in the slave states.

The United States was the only country in all of Western society whose slave system did not allow for manumission – once a slave always a slave and that held true for the generations which came along down the line. In the Library of Congress, I found a document which is a sale of a black woman and her child in 1849, the contract also covering additional children born to that woman at any later point in time.

The purchaser paid $600 for the woman and her child, as well as for any

future children. What we have here is a human being who is not only valued as

property, but whose property value might increase over time. A good

investment, wouldn’t you think?

The Annenberg video makes the point that blacks fought and died for the Union while they were still, technically speaking, slaves. After all, the Dred Scott decision, which affirmed that slaves were not citizens, was announced in 1857, and it applied not only to blacks living in the South, but also to slaves who had run away from their slaveholders and were now living in the North. In other words, if you had a black skin, private property trumped Constitutional guarantees.

Today some asshole in the Texas legislature introduced a bill to put a referendum on the 2024 ballot which, if passed, would allow Texas to secede. As Grandpa would say, ‘gai gezinte hai’ (read: goodbye and good riddance.)

I’m sure if Texas were to become independent, the first thing they would do would be to annul the Juneteenth holiday, which after all, celebrates the 1865 freeing of slaves in Texas by military decree.

I’ll say it again. Watch the Annenberg video and tell everyone else to watch it too.

Then watch it again.

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