Take your foot off my neck; A call for self-evaluation

Published 6:48 am Thursday, June 18, 2020

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Dear Editor

Ever wonder why African Americans celebrate Juneteenth? Why is Juneteenth important to the 40 million African Americans and other people of goodwill in these United States?  It’s a long story that began in August 1619 when a ship appeared on the horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. This ship carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. In its simplest form, enslavement permitted a man to own another man as property and to do with him whatever he so chose and to work him without pay.   

Fast forward 240 years to Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln would issue, as a war measure, a formal emancipation of all slaves in any of the Confederate States of America that did not return to Union control by Jan. 1, 1863.

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The proclamation covered approximately 3.1 million of the then nation’s 4 million slaves. The ten affected states were South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, and North Carolina. The Union slave states of Maryland, Delaware, Missouri and Kentucky were not included. 

As word spread of freedom, it is widely believed that slaves stayed up all night on Jan. 1, 1863, singing and praying, thanking God for the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  It would take some two and a half years for this news to reach Galveston, Texas in June 1865 giving rise to the formal establishment of Juneteenth.

Today, 45 states and the District of Columbia, excluding Hawaii, North and South Dakotas and Montana, commemorate June 19 as a state holiday or observance known as Emancipation Day, forever severing the link between master and slave.

Like many communities around the country, in June 2011, the Greater Valley Juneteenth Committee was created to celebrate African American freedom and achievement and encourage continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. African Americans, Caucasians, Latinos, Native Americans and Koreans came together and created various cultural events to celebrate Juneteenth.

These activities included concerts, festivals, poster and essay writing contests, health fairs, storytelling at the slave cabin, banquets, music and live entertainment at churches, in community facilities and parks.

This year COVID-19 precluded conducting Juneteenth events, but it also provides an opportunity to reflect on where we are 400 years since the arrival of Africans on the shores of this country.

America has been under siege for the past three weeks because of the rage sparked by the public killing of an unarmed, handcuffed, African American man. This event seemed to be the last straw after centuries of blood loss and oppression of black people.

We cannot solve these problems if we do not admit that we have problems. I submit to you that one of our first steps must begin with each of us taking a close look in the mirror and examining our heart, our actions, implicit biases and our intentions. 

In the privacy of that mirror honestly answer this question and start again from there: What role have I played in perpetuating biases, knowingly or unknowingly?

Continued finger pointing and victimization has not worked and will not work.

Nor have silence, violence, apathy and indifference. The question becomes where is your foot? On whose neck is it resting?

Trudye Morgan Johnson

West Point, Georgia