JUNETEENTH Open Thread: End of the Epic Lie

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Opal Lee, Grandmother of Juneteeth, receives signing pen from legitimately elected President Biden

Friday, June 18, was the first national celebration of Juneteenth — you can tell it’s now truly a national holiday because it was celebrated on the wrong date.  Unfortunately I couldn’t do more than put a brief paragraph up in this Open Thread before being overtaken by a memorial service for a close relative, and then Father’s Day.

For this initial national celebration, which arrived with more warning than an earthquake but less than a hurricane, it’s a good time to get to know the story of 93-year-old Opal Lee.  She’s the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” who has pushed for this holiday for decades and literally walked many miles to get its approval onto the national agenda.  (I wonder if the notoriously racist Texas elementary school history books will include the story of one of their own?)  Finally, the rest of the nation has caught up with Texas — not words that you see every day.

But what does the holiday mean?

Does it mean that chattel slavery was bad?  Yes it was, horribly so, but so are the types of slavery practices in the modern day, which mostly involve kidnapping and/or false imprisonment, extortion, and threats (and actualities) of torture.  These still crop up occasionally in Orange County — largely whenever a worker (usually domestics or sex workers) are forced to give up their passports to their “employers” so that they can’t leave the country (and the employer) — sometimes tied to a threat of contacting immigration authorities.  Other sorts are practiced by our declared (sort of) enemies like China and our declared allies in the Middle East and elsewhere. This also doesn’t count forced labor (e.g., with prisoners), wage slavery, etc., which aren’t chattel slavery but still satisfy the main point of slavery, which is to make people work for as little expense as possible.

Does it mean that officially government sanctioned slavery had ended?  Surprisingly, no.  The Emancipation Proclamation was an act against those in rebellion rather than an act of conquest; only that could maintain the principle that the South had never actually and legally left the United States.  So persons in slave states that had not rebelled — Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and to some extent West Virginia — could and did continue to hold slaves until the final passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which came half a year after Juneteenth

So if neither of the above, what does Juneteenth really mean for people today?  It’s more than a story of a general in Galveston promulgating an order that slaves were now free.  It was the repudiation of a government and societal lie, to the slaves of the State of Texas, that they were not yet free.

Juneteenth, in this sense, celebrates the repudiation of official lies (or at least omissions of the truth) designed to keep the powerful in power and their social inferiors in their service.The audacity of Juneteenth is that slaveholders got the benefits of almost 30 months of free work from their slaves to which even their government, long generally solicitous of slavery, said that was not their lawful due.  (These sorts of lies are not limited to slavery.)

Viewed this way, Juneteenth quickly hurtles to the forefront of established federal holidays.  It’s called a “national independence day,”  but it’s more that even that: its a day celebrating the conquering of false information and wrongful use of power — not simply on moral terms, but on civil and legal terms — by the combination of government power and malefactors of great wealth.  It’s the day that the Truth defeated the Lie.

The official holiday came upon us too quickly for us to properly celebrate it along these lines; hopefully, we’ll be better prepared for it in 2022.

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ADDITIONS FROM VERN (who’s been celebrating Juneteenth since 1990, when he learned about it in East Austin.)  I think it’s important to include this short 1979 interview with the irreplaceable James Baldwin, which was never broadcast, considered unimportant by the media, until NOW, 42 years later….

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I ALSO want to share (with permission) this great, handy timeline of racism and civil rights in the good old USA.  This series of NINE SLIDES was created by Shaun Sanders @BarPrepBuddy, and is intended to give us an idea of how RECENT even the IDEA of civil rights is in our nation-in-progress.  (You can click each of these nine images to enlarge them if they’re hard to read!)

1 (1575-1625)

2 (1625-1675)

3 (1675-1725)

4 (1725-1775)

5 (1775-1825)

6 (1825-1875)

7 (1875-1925)

8 (1925-1975)

9 (1975-present)

This is your hastily passed and signed Juneteenth / Fathers Day Weekend Open Thread.  Talk about anything you want, within reason; after all, it’s a holiday weekend!


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)