By Naomi Nightingale – Social Justice Activist, Save Venice Community Organization.
Celebrated by many African Americans since June 19, 1865, Juneteenth began in Texas as the day the news was received, two years later, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed enslaved Black people free as of January 1, 1863. On June 17, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden, 46th President of the United States of America, signed legislation declaring June 19th the newest national holiday in our country.
It was jubilation again; the celebration and acknowledgment of freedom, equality, and humanity for Black people but this time in 2021 all Americans are afforded the privilege to celebrate.
President Biden said, in part, “Great nations don’t ignore the most painful chapters of their past. Great nations confront them. We come to terms with them.”
It is not by legislative action or Presidential Proclamation that we come to terms with our painful past. – our history unequivocally demonstrates this; otherwise, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865 would have been the standing and successful rule of law that directed the future of African Americans in this county. It did not.
Succeeding laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1866 which was written to protect the civil rights of people of African descent born in or brought to the United States, failed to fulfill its promise of protection of equality and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
No such guarantees were enforced by Constitutional Amendment 13, ratified in 1865 which reiterated the abolishment of slavery – just in case the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln and General Order No. 3 was not clear in freeing enslaved people of African descent.
History has proved that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has failed African Americans for decades in disproportionate numbers as the United States has the highest number of incarcerated people in the world, most of whom are African Americans and other people of color. The 14th Amendment declared that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens and shall not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or equal protection of the law.
The 15th Amendment of the United States prohibits the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote. Currently, 23 of the 50 states in this country have numerous legislative actions pending or approved to suppress voting in their states. These suppression efforts typically impact African Americans, other people of color, poor people and persons who are likely to vote for democratic candidates.
The overt and unapologetic effort to suppress the right and access to voting by states makes the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 near null in their effect unless the federal Department of Justice in the Biden Administration can strengthen the application of these laws.
Yes, let us celebrate Juneteenth and the declaration of this date as a national holiday. Let us be jubilant that yet another acknowledgment of the humanity and the significance of African Americans to the history and wealth of these United States contributions is historically noted.
But let us not forget the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the rules of laws since then that have not fully lived up to their promises. We must keep in mind that we have miles to go in our pursuit of life, liberty, equality, and inhumanity; and, with justice as the light that guides our way, we will arrive.