Juneteenth is a holiday that a growing number of communities around the country have added to their summer calendars. “Juneteenth” is a reference to June 19, 1865, when enslaved blacks in Port Arthur, Texas, were told of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln releasing them from servitude to the Confederacy.
Over the years, this date has come to represent a significant step forward for African Americans who endured real hardships at the hands of white Americans, from their introduction to our shores in 1619 through the end of slavery. How grand of a story would it be to be able to say that the terrible history of racism in America ended there, in Texas in 1865? Unfortunately, the long, arduous journey to right America’s greatest wrong still continues today.
Fast forward to 2019. We are literally 400 years into the history of black people in America, yet we continue to suffer from health, wealth and educational disparities in comparison to our white counterparts. There is a lack of equity and fairness in a criminal justice system that metes out unjust treatment to African Americans at every rung. We see a gross underrepresentation of people of color — especially blacks — from corporate America, to entertainment, to academia.
Despite being here for centuries, and contributing to just about every significant developmental and historical contribution in the United States, black people continue to be been marginalized or asked to be patient. We have grown your food, built your homes and been the foundation on which this country created an economic and political juggernaut. All without a “Thank you” or acknowledgement, while simultaneously being subject to the worst brutality this country can muster.
We now stand the risk of having the incremental gains that millions struggled and died to obtain during the past four centuries washed away by two things that America has chosen to always hold on to when dealing with black people: ignorance and silence. Ignorance to the fact that there would be no America without the blood, sweat and tears of black people. The silence of collective community and right-minded individuals that have always seen these atrocities happen, but again refuse to speak up.
As we march toward 2020 and the presidential elections, Africans across the country will celebrate Juneteenth as a moment of liberation and promise. I would like the rest of the country to use this date as a moment of reflection on the trail of broken promises and blind eyes turned on so-called neighbors and friends who, despite America’s best efforts, continue to persevere. Ask yourselves: Can we ever have an American Dream if we continue to allow others to experience an American Nightmare?
Dwight Bullard, a former state lawmaker, is political director of New Florida Majority.