Juneteenth is a call to action


Mayor of Langley

Juneteenth is not only an African American holiday. In fact, it’s not universally celebrated by Black communities in the U.S., which is a lovely opening for all of us to engage with it in personally meaningful and relevant ways.

I’d like to lead by example and briefly share what Juneteenth means to me: Juneteenth is a commemoration for all Americans that acknowledges an important and complex moment in our history.

You probably recognize the quote:

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” – George Santayana

This sentiment is particularly relevant when it comes to historic commemoration, which is only truly valuable in a democracy when the past accurately informs the present day.

Most observed historic holidays in the U.S. do not accurately inform the present; they generally ignore history, or worse, reinforce inaccurate or partial history. In the case of race and our history of slavery, it’s not accidental that we generally don’t fully or accurately learn about it.

So, I’d like to explicitly recognize some uncomfortable but relevant historical points:

– The enslaving of Africans by Europeans began on this continent at least as early as 1619 and had a central role in the founding of our country.

– The fledgling U.S. federal government chose to affirm the brutal oppression of human beings in its founding documents and in its laws and policies.

– The Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863, only ended slavery in confederate-controlled states. Juneteenth commemorates the legal freedom of formerly enslaved people in the state of Texas – a confederate state – over two years later on June 19, 1865.

– It wasn’t until after the Civil War with the ratification of the 13th Amendment on Dec. 6, 1865, that legal trade in human beings ended in the U.S. But the 13th Amendment did not end the brutal oppression of human beings; what was legal slavery before the war morphed into different, but equally brutal, legal and extra-legal forms of oppression after the war – like the practice of sharecropping and the institution of Jim Crow laws.

– And contemporary forms of legal and extra-legal oppression continue to thrive to this day.

While this list is disturbing, it is also woefully incomplete. I have included it in this form to get your attention – because for me, Juneteenth is first and foremost about:

– reclaiming American history in a fully accurate form,

– beginning to consciously correct my historical understanding, and

– harnessing that understanding to recognize current incarnations of racism and my responsibility to address them.

To be clear. The ideals in our founding documents are largely honorable. And it’s a miracle of history and a demonstration of human spirit that formerly enslaved people and their descendants have always held us accountable to those ideals.

Let’s celebrate that in spite of slavery, and Jim Crow, and ongoing more subtle but still profoundly destructive forms of racism that persist — Americans — particularly descendants of formerly enslaved people — have moved freedom forward for all of us. I stand before you as an out and proud lesbian who is directly in debt and profoundly grateful to the work done primarily by descendants of formerly enslaved people to secure freedom and civil rights for all.

I hope to honor their sacrifice by accepting the responsibility to continue moving us forward — because we have not arrived. In fact, hard won freedoms are under attack both legally and illegally: in the form of gerrymandering and outright voter suppression, in the form of racially motivated intimidation, violence and murder, and in the form of attempted sedition cloaking itself in cynical lies aimed at undermining democracy.

So, for me, Juneteenth is a call to action: to celebrate, to learn and educate and to agitate to ensure we retain and broaden freedom in the United States for everyone.

I hope that you’ll accept this invitation to begin to really dig in and learn about our history, to appreciate it fully — the good and the bad — to celebrate the gains that we have made and to find opportunities to engage to ensure we retain and broaden freedom for everyone.