Coopting Juneteenth with a federal holiday

Thomas-Leonard-horse-Paco-at-Berkeley-Juneteenth-Festival-061922-by-Estafany-Gonzalez-KQED-1400x933, Coopting Juneteenth with a federal holiday, Behind Enemy Lines
Thomas Leonard and his horse Paco attend the Berkeley Juneteenth Festival on Sunday, June 19, 2022. Leonard, 69, said his clothing is an homage to his heritage. “This is how my people wore it in the beginning … and I decided to represent,“ Leonard said. – Photo: Estefany Gonzalez, KQED

by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

Damage control

The police murder of George Floyd during the summer of 2020 was a lynching. The act differed little from the routine public murders of Black people by mob and police violence that has punctuated centuries of Black existence in Amerika. What differed was the public reaction – from the attempted intervention by eye-witnesses to stop the act (whereas in times past, witnesses participated in or cheered on lynchings) to the global uprisings that followed (whereas in the past, the U.S. government was able to conceal and downplay the prevalence of lynchings and racist police violence from the world and to silence those who tried to expose it by destroying their livelihoods or murdering them, like Ida B. Wells, Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson and Malcolm X).

U.S. officials have been in a mode of damage control, making formal gestures to distance the government from behaviors that have and continue to literally define its treatment of Blacks for centuries. Hence the widely publicized show trial of Derek Chauvin who smugly murdered George Floyd on video, and now the federalization of the Juneteenth holiday.

Suddenly, there’s the need to make a public show of government validation of events in Black history that were before now remembered only by Black people, such as Juneteenth, and giving recent mainstream attention to the previously suppressed history of the 1921 race massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood community (known as “Black Wall Street”), where white mobs massacred hundreds and displaced thousands of Blacks during days of rioting, rapes, shootings and bombings – even by plane.

Revising Juneteenth – Lincoln didn’t free the slaves!

But Juneteenth is not being recognized for its true lesson, which is that Black folks freed ourselves from chattel slavery. We always had the power to do so but were tricked into doubting ourselves and waiting for permission to resist our bondage from Northern slavers who needed our help to defeat their Southern enemies. Instead, the holiday is being used to portray Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. government as our liberators; since it was on June 19, 1865, that the Union Army marched into Galveston, Texas, and its Black forces informed the still-enslaved people of Texas that they had been declared free two years earlier by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln very deliberately did not declare those Blacks still enslaved in the Union free. They were only freed as a result of the resistance of the slaves in the South during the Civil War.

Lincoln didn’t free the slaves. He never cared about their plight. As he blatantly explained, in response to Horace Greely, editor of the New York Tribune, who pleaded with Lincoln in August 1862 to free the slaves:

“Dear Sir:…I have not meant to leave any one in doubt. … My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because it helps to save this Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help save the Union.”

When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation a month after Greely’s appeal, it was a move to use Black people as we have been used since, namely as a weapon hurled against the enemies of white supremacist Amerika, yet never to fight for our own true freedom against Amerika.

Remember, the major appeal made to the slaves to fight with the Union was the promise made by U.S. Army Gen. William Sherman, to give 40 acres and a mule to every Southern Black family who rose up against the Confederacy – a promise that was promptly revoked after the North won the Civil War by President Andrew Johnson.

Rashid-2013-self-portrait-in-star-no-color, Coopting Juneteenth with a federal holiday, Behind Enemy Lines
A 2013 self portrait by Rashid

Juneteenth’s true lesson: We still ain’t free!

The true lesson of Juneteenth was clearly not that Lincoln freed the slaves, but rather that what was achieved was achieved by their own hand and that we still ain’t free! No one expressed it better at the time than Martin Delaney, the highest ranking Black officer of the U.S. Army’s segregated Black troops, speaking a month after Union forces marched into Galveston, Texas:

In July 1865, hundreds of freed slaves gathered near an old church on St. Helena Island off the South Carolina coast. There, Virginia-born freeman Martin Delaney, the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. Colored Troops, addressed them. Before the Civil War, he had been a prominent abolitionist in the North. Now, Maj. Delaney assured the gathering that slavery had indeed been “absolutely abolished.’ But abolition, he stressed, was less the result of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership than the outcome of former slaves and free Blacks like him deciding to resist and undermine the Confederacy. Slavery was dead, and freedom was now in their hands. ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ his listeners shouted.

According to David Shi’s “America: A Narrative History Tenth Edition”:

“Delaney then noted that many of the white planters in the area claimed that the former slaves were lazy and ‘have not the intelligence to get on for yourselves without being guided and driven to the work by [white] overseers.’ Delaney dismissed such assumptions as lies intended to restore a system of forced labor for Blacks. He then told the freed slaves that their best hope was to become self-sustaining farmers: ‘Get a community and get all the lands you can – if you cannot get any singly.’ Then ‘grow as much vegetables etc., as you want for your families; on the other part of land, you cultivate rice and cotton.’ They must find ways to become economically self-reliant, he stressed. Otherwise, they would find themselves slaves again.

“Several white planters attended Delaney’s talk, and an army officer at the scene reported that they ‘listened with horror depicted in their faces’ when Delaney urged the former slaves to become independent farmers. The planters predicted that such speeches would incite ‘open rebellion’ among southern Blacks.” (1)

True to Delaney’s warning, the freed slaves were denied and stripped of land, and thereby reduced back to enslaved conditions. This was accomplished by a number of very deliberate measures instituted by the U.S. government in collaboration with the old Southern planter class whom it had just waged war with, in order to re-entrench white-supremacist domination and Black subjugation in the South. These measures included the following:

  • – The U.S. government betrayed the promise of 40 acres and a mule and Southern Reconstruction.
  • – The newly ‘freed’ Blacks were stripped of the means to defend their achievements, their newly won ‘freedoms’ and themselves from racial violence by the U.S. government’s relocating those with military experience and training. This was done by sending thousands of Black Civil War veterans to the Western frontier to aid Amerika’s war of removal and extermination against the AmerIndians.
    These were the “Buffalo Soldiers,” the Black cavalry regiments created under U.S. law in 1866 to serve under white U.S. Army officers, to suppress the AmerIndians – we were once again used to fight a war against white supremacist and capitalist Amerika’s enemies.
  • – The newly ‘freed’ slaves were forcibly removed, with no way to resist, from land they’d occupied that was formerly owned by slaveowners who’d been expelled during the war. The freed Blacks had taken over this land based on the U.S. government’s promise of 40 acres and a mule but were then removed by the U.S. Army, many at gunpoint, who gave the land back to the former slavers.
  • – The U.S. government removed the Union Army from the South in 1877, betraying its promised support of Reconstruction and withdrawing the only protection that existed against Southern racial violence and white backlash against the freed slaves’ achievements.
  • – Also, chattel slavery wasn’t abolished; it was reformed into penal slavery. Penal slavery was legalized in 1865 with passage of the 13th Amendment, which authorized slavery and involuntary servitude against those convicted of crimes. Penal slavery actually made the old slave system harsher for the enslaved and more cost efficient for those exploiting slave labor. Under this system, the burden of procuring and maintaining the slaves was shifted to the state, and because the private contractors who used the laborers didn’t have to concern themselves with the slaves’ upkeep – food, clothing, shelter and health – the slaves were often worked to death and simply replaced with new prisoner workers. The state kept a steady supply of prisoner laborers by use of Black Codes and similar criminal laws targeted and selectively enforced against Blacks.
    Unknown to most today, penal slavery still operates in Southern U.S. prisons, with forced uncompensated field labor and criminal laws still selectively enforced against people of color. In fact the system of penal slavery was first developed and still exists in Texas, where Juneteenth originated.
  • – Then there was the institution of sharecropping, debt tenancy, and peonage status, which compelled Black families to work for their former enslavers, under perpetual debt created through systemic fraud by white landowners.
  • – Violent white terror swept the South targeted at Black leaders, businesses, schools, churches and white allies to restore white supremacist hegemony and crush Black economic and political achievements, against which the communities, stripped of their own fighting forces, could not resist. Within 34 years of unsupported effort after chattel slavery, Southern Blacks still produced over 15,000 teachers, 17,000 college students, 1,000 doctors, 14,000 books, over 264,000 Black-owned farms and homes, and $27 million in church property. Under attack of white racist backlash this ownership was eroded.(2)

These are Juneteenth’s true lessons: that we were and must be our own liberators and defenders, and the ruling class and powers that be Amerika have only and always used us to fight their wars and battles to achieve their own ends of wealth and power, while keeping us subjugated and programmed not to defend our communities, our families and ourselves.

This is why they coopt our histories to misrepresent their meanings for us or try to erase them altogether. Especially in times of ferment when their crimes against the people are brought out into the open. We must not be placated or deceived.

Juneteenth commemorates our resistance against this foul racist imperialist system that falsely portrays itself as our protector and savior. Its crimes against the people today are but a continuation of the crimes that built this system.

We must lead and unite in struggle with the people of the world to end this inherently evil U.S.-led capitalist imperialist and racist system of world domination, in order to finally free ourselves and the billions of others who are its victims. This is the meaning of Juneteenth!

Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!

All Power to the People!

_____________

Endnotes1. David Emory Shi, et al., “America: A Narrative History Tenth Edition,” (N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Co. Ltd., 2016), pp. 707-708.

2. For an account from the time period, see, W.G. Schell, “Is the Negro a Beast?” (Moundsville, IL: Gospel Trumpet Pub. Co., 1901).

Send our brother some love and light: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1007485, Nottoway CC, 2892 Schutt Rd, Burkeville VA 23922.