Juneteenth: Acknowledging the past and crafting a path towards restorative justice

Juneteenth parade in St. Augustine, Florida in 1922. | Creator: State Archives of Florida | Credit: State Archives of Florida | Copyright: Public Domain, PDM 1.0

Can you please provide background on the history and significance of Juneteenth?

Over the decades, Juneteenth has come to represent a day of liberation, a second Independence Day long celebrated and memorialized as such in the African American community. Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) is the oldest nationally-celebrated commemoration of the end of racial slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation issued in 1863, outlawing chattel slavery in the U.S., was a momentous occasion for African Americans and abolitionist allies. Despite its great welcome and potential, the Emancipation was not implemented in places still under Confederate control at the time. One such place was the Confederate state of Texas. In that state, enslaved people would not be free until two years later on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced to more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state that they were free by executive decree. To the newly-freed people, this day came to be known as “Juneteenth,” a word embracing the month of June and the date of the 19th.

In your opinion, what contexts, challenges and achievements should be recognized as we celebrate Juneteenth?

Today, we should see Juneteenth as a moment to re-focus on ongoing national injustice and anti-Black racism. Juneteenth is a celebration of African American freedom. It is a day to publicly remember honored ancestors, Black people who, despite the constant brutality and violation against their personhood — both corporal and spiritual — insisted on their humanity. With President Biden’s naming of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, followed by Massachusetts and several other states, Juneteenth can be recognized as a historical site of memory for all Americans, a reminder of a people’s persistence, resilience and spiritual beauty, of their righteous quest to hold Americans accountable to the moral visions of their founding. These achievements are encouraging steps forward in acknowledgment of African Americans’ contributions to the nation and local society. It also foregrounds for the nation the distance that remains to be traversed on this journey toward equality, racial justice, African American restitution, dignity, and true citizenship.

Despite progress and momentum in addressing the ongoing problem of global racism and injustice, significant work still lies ahead. Reparations have been called for as a critical initiative to advance restorative justice. How do you define reparations and reparatory justice in terms of its meaning, history and necessity?

Reparations should be envisioned as a relational practice of healing spiritual, moral, and material harm. Many Black people are still living with compounded trauma from daily experience with every system of white supremacy; therefore, the trauma is hardly “post.” And while there is a demand for restitution and restorative justice, I agree with reparation scholars and activists who maintain that Black people must engage in a process of self-healing through a concentrated engagement of rematriation — the physical and spiritual rehabilitation that reconnects individuals with the traditional knowledge and spiritual epistemology of their ancestors.

This image was originally posted to Flickr by Fibonacci Blue at https://flickr.com/photos/44550450@N04/50024711522. | It was reviewed on 20 June 2020 by FlickreviewR 2 and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. | Further image credit and information can be found here.

Part of your advocacy work is to challenge political and media disinformation about the meaning of reparation. Can you please shed light on common misconceptions and disinformation surrounding reparations?

An argument that now is not the time to consider reparations reminds us of the gradualist argument for desegregating schools and extending equal rights to African Americans during the civil rights era.

Based on your research, advocacy work and experiences, what specific outcomes would be most critical and/or urgent for achieving restorative justice and equity?

There is a diverse and dedicated international cadre of organizations advocating for reparations for African descended people who have been exploited globally by European imposed systems of white supremacy. The justification that these organizations use invariably focuses on the fact that European settlers invaded other territories, brutally dispossessed indigenous peoples of their land, violently enslaved them as laborers and imported and enslaved laborers from the African continent and exploited them for their own benefit and development.

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