Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Happy Juneteenth!


Today is Juneteenth! And it's official in Massachusetts. According to this article, Governor Deval Patrick signed a proclamation that makes June 19th, Juneteenth Independence Day, which commemorates the day in 1865, when the last slaves learned that they were free.

Also in Massachusetts, this piece of legislation, HB 3239, was proposed by Representative Byron Rushing which would make the history of slavery relevant to the awarding of certain contracts. You can read the full text of the bill here.

The bill reads in part:

"The Secretary, state agency or state authority shall require that any company that enters into a contract with the Commonwealth, whether the contract is subject to competitive bidding or not, shall complete an affidavit, prior to or contemporaneous with entering into the contract, certifying that:—

A.) The company has searched any and all records of the company or majority-owned subsidiary and any predecessor company or its majority-owned subsidiary regarding records of participation or investments in, or profits derived, from slavery, including slaveholder insurance policies issued during the slavery era; and

B.) The company has disclosed any and all records of participation in or profits derived by the company or majority-owned subsidiary and any predecessor company or its majority-owned subsidiary from slavery, including issuance of slaveholder insurance policies, during the slavery era, and identified names of any enslaved
persons or slaveholders described in the records. The Secretary, state agency, or state authority may terminate the contract if a company fails to fully and accurately complete the affidavit."

I'm not sure if this legislation has much support or chance at becoming law, but I'm really glad that Rep. Rushing put it out there. During law school, my contracts professor, David Hall, used slave contracts as some of the contracts that we studied. When you see these contracts, it really brings it home. I don't know if many people really understand or think about the business and economic aspect of slavery. In these readings, people were the property being transferred by a contract or the property that was the subject of a dispute in court.

A few years ago, I was talking to someone about how we both were researching our family trees. I was saying that I had reached an impasse and needed more information. He said something referring to my need to look for wills, because that often gave information. However, from the context in which he made the statement, it was clear to me that he did not understand that my ancestors would probably not be listed by name, but instead as the property being transferred.

I went on Ancestry.com and looked up the 1860 slave schedules in Virginia, where my maternal ancestors were enslaved. Here is a sample of what I found. The slave owner is the same for everyone. James H. Hathaway had a lot of slaves.

Age Gender Race Name of Slave Owner

80 Male Black James H Hathaway

75 Female Black " "

45 Female Mulatto " "

6 Male Mulatto " "

6 Female Black " "

1 Male Black " "


When I first saw these listings of people who could be my ancestors, I was infuriated, nauseous, and hurt all at the same time. There are no names. And there were old people and babies. The lives of misery and pain that they endured I cannot even imagine, but we survived. I'm here.

I've noticed some other interesting changes over the past year regarding the question of whether states should apologize for slavery. In fact, in early April of this year, CNN online had a poll posing that very question. At the time I read the poll, approximately 111,000 people had voted. 23% said that states should apologize and a whopping 77% said that states should not apologize. Those numbers shocked me. Maybe I'm too optimistic.

I'm very curious and have posted my own poll on the right sidebar. I tried to put it in this post, but it wouldn't work, so it will be up for several hours before this post. I hope that everyone who reads this post will vote, even if you don't comment or come here regularly, or if you've never visited before now.

An article in Time Magazine online discusses the issue. Here is an excerpt.

"Many non-blacks assert that they shouldn't apologize for something they didn't do. There is logic to that thinking: if you didn't own slaves or enable others to own slaves, you aren't culpable. But the U.S. didn't do a very good job of converting its former slaves to full-fledged citizens. Slavery gave way to Jim Crow, lynchings, poll taxes, redlining and educational and job discrimination. Although illegal now, these tools perpetuated a racial hierarchy that affects every American today, no matter how subtly. Just compare any rates of achievement, poverty, imprisonment by race; blacks are nowhere closing to catching up."

And to give you more context, I was born in 1964,as in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I was born towards the end of the year. I'm one of the first generations of African-Americans to be born with full civil rights. My grandmother's grandmother was a slave. When you look at slavery from the perspective of generations and real people, it was not that long ago.

Slavery was and still is wrong. The enslavement of African-Americans went on for centuries and was the backbone of the American economy. The profits that slavery yielded endure to this day. Even though it is only symbolic, it means something for the legislatures of each state to own up to this. It is very telling when a state will not do it. What is the problem that legislators cannot even say that the state, not them personally, but that the state now believes that the institution of slavery was wrong and apologizes for its role?

From what I've read, Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, and North Carolina have all recently apologized for slavery. And according to this article, today New York's legislature is set to approve legislation that will make it the first northern state to apologize for its role in slavery.

I think the legislatures in all states involved should apologize as well as a big apology from the federal government. I don't know that it will do anything, but it certainly is a step in the right direction. Isn't apologizing for what we do wrong something that we learn as little kids? But the big apology still seems to be a long way off, since this press release shows that President Bush does not even acknowledge Juneteenth. Here is an excerpt.

"President George W. Bush has been urged by Congress to recognize Juneteenth Independence Day by issuing a special Presidential Proclamation. President Bush, who has declined participation in the annual WASHINGTON JUNETEENTH National Holiday Observance since taking office in 2000, has perplexed national Juneteenth leaders by the lack of personal public acknowledgement and comment on Juneteenth, considered America's second Independence Day."

I'd be remiss not to mention reparations, but that indeed is related to an apology for slavery. And the issue of reparations may be the real reason that many states and the federal government do not want to apologize. Money. Governments do not want to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves in America. For those of you who want to learn more about reparations, here is an interesting article. I also recommend the book The Debt, by Randall Robinson.


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29 comments:

Mosilager said...

Happy Juneteenth!

It's great that the rights of African-Americans as citizens was finally recognised. It should be commemorated in the same way as the US independence day. Speaking with my non-American hat on, do you think affirmative action programs are effective? And would reparations / apologies give the US an excuse to get rid of affirmative action?

suttonhoo said...

happy juneteenth, anali. such a moving post. I voted "Yes".

It's curious to me that we rarely merge the narrative threads of enslavement with the struggle for labor rights in this country. aren't they branches of the same tree?

we built this country on labor that was unlawfully gained. there's a two-fold crime in this: gaining by someone else's hard work without compensating them, and depriving them of their own personal fulfillment through work of their choosing.

not to mention removing them from their home and family and transporting them against their will to a place from which they can't even hope to return.

yeah: it's time to apologize.

Asha said...

Happy Juneteenth! Never heard of this before,thanks for the info.I will vote "yes" too:))

Nance said...

This is a very thought-provoking post. I'm glad you have international readers to lend that perspective. As I was reading, I wondered when it would finally come down to what things like this ultimately come down to: money. If there were no money involved, I imagine the words wouldn't be much of an issue for anyone.

Tera said...

Happy Juneteenth Anali! Great post! It is great conversation as slavery is still very much a hot topic even today. We must always be reminded of what our ancestors went through, and what civil rights leaders fought so hard to accomplish.

barkfoot said...

As a British citizen, I have benefited and am still benefiting from the profits of slavery. Despite this, I don't feel the need to apologise for something that I had no control over. As far as the goverment apologising, then yes, there should be an apology but, unfortuneatly it would probably be hollow.
Britian has a long history of slavery. The 'fuedal' system made slaves of it's own citizens, under 'Danelaw' many indigenous English were enslaved and during Roman occupation slavery was commonplace, both for and against the English. How far do you go back to seek an apology?
As far as 'Juneteenth', then every effort should be made to celebrate a step forward however belated.

CapCity said...

THANK U for this moving and EXTREMELY intelligent Post, Anali! If I were to write on the same topic it would reflect my emotions ONLY! U have done an amazing peice with emotions, including historical & political specifics!

In addition to APOLOGIES - States need to 'fess UP to the luxuries/benefits that TO THIS DAY are directly affiliated with SLAVERY! It didn't just GO AWAY - we are still here - living, breathing REMNANTS of it!

I continue to believe in reparations - not just the "pittance" that they are giving Native Americans (which, technically we should ALSO be privy to without the convoluted 'necessary' proofs - THAT too is another form of rascism = the system made sure we have little to no proof OF our inter-minglings).

Maybe there is no way to actually PAY out reparations. But, Reparations to Black Americans (& heck ANYone of African Descent where EVER we're living because it affects us GLOBALLY) - should be something as simple as: no need to pay taxes on specific major items like: Travel (we got "free" travel once upon a time, whether we wanted it or not), Food (we sowed & harvested MORE than our share of crops not to mention husbandry), Clothing (we picked enough cotton & worked enough indigo plantations), Shelter (we built MOST of the shelters worldwide)...

...as u can see this post TOUCHED me TODAY, Anali!

Mizrepresent said...

Wow Anali, this was great information...when searching for my ancestors, i found the same, The Sewells owned many slaves, and have since located many of my white relatives, but i don't own the property, no land, no inheritance, but we still share a history.

Sojourner G said...

Thank you for the education sis. I'm from Texas where we know all too well the implications and history of Juneteenth.

CapCity said...

U've been awarded the Thinking Blogger's Award by me! Stop by my spot to see what that means:-). U seem to have every other award, Anali & I am surprised u don't have the Thinkers award...at least i didn't see it on your site.

BipolarLawyerCook said...

Hmm, thanks for the thought provocation. I don't know what I think about reparations per se, but I do know that I think our current social welfare system (including public education) is so underfunded and understaffed and underprogrammed as to be a separate racist and classist act, in and of itself. I'm a firm believer in affirmative action in the old-school sense, the 1964 War on Poverty, direct services in the affected communities sense, and I do believe it's our duty as a society to level the playing field as much as possible. I don't know if it ends up being a semantic issue, calling it reparations or adequate social welfare funding, though...

From the practical perspective of collecting votes, though, it's more likely to get social welfare funding than reparations, since the idea of social welfare funding seems somehow less "special interest." There's still far too much of a consciousness of "us" v. "them."

Cynthia said...

Well, being from the Caribbean means that we are all decendents of slaves, especially if you are black. We still feel the whips of our colonial masters in a variety of settings such as ownership of land and business to the way we are treated on the international stage. Recently in Barbados we have had 2 white pastors apologising for slavery.

In terms of reparation, I don't see that ever happening. As you said, it is about money and money is power.

KAYLEE said...

wiw never heard of it but happy juneteenth.

David Sullivan said...

Happy Juneteenth!
(Do I get this day off like Patriot's Day?)

The large majority of my ancestors came to the US after slavery was abolished. Many of my ancestors were starved out of Ireland when the English took all of the crops grown there for themselves and left them to eat diseased potatoes and not much else.

I feel that reparations would just reinforce the victim mentality that permeates many a black persons psyche.

That being said, ancestors of slaves were never able to assimilate into US society as the Italians, Irish and others because Black=Slave. The new groups always felt like they were not on the lowest rung of the ladder. Blacks have climbed the ladder and should be trumpeting their successes.

States that participated in Slavery should apologize for slavery and any remaining vestiges of slavery should be eliminated (confederate flag, plantations etc..).

The victim hood needs to stop there. Blacks have the same percentage of intelligent, stupid, criminal and moral people as any other group.

Most people my age and younger can not remember a time when Blacks could not vote, eat in the same restaurant or attend the same schools. The upside is that they also don't associate Blacks with being inferior (slaves), but strong athletes, powerful politicians and graceful entertainers.

Would you rather have a friend who whines and complains about everything, how they were wronged by their family, employers, the world and are wallowing in their own self pity. Or a friend who has overcome adversity, but is a strong, stable person who is there for you unconditionally?

AVIANA said...

Hey chicki!

What a post! A post that i would comment too much on. Nothing against you or anything but this sets off a firestorm of feelings inside me especially being a black woman.

have a nice weekend!

Anali said...

mosilager - Thanks! I think some affirmative action programs have been effective. There is a sizeable African-American middle class now, but many have still slipped through the cracks.

I think some may use the program to hire any "black person" whether they are qualified or not and they may not even be African-American. Then if it doesn't work out, because they weren't qualified to begin with, it's an excuse not hire another. And just to clarify, which could be another whole post in itself, when I say African-Americans, that's not all black people. Many black people in this country are recent immigrants, or have only been here a few generations. All African-Americans are black, but not all blacks are African-Americans. I'm talking specifically about the black people here now, who are descendants of American slaves. It's my understanding that they are technically the ones who are the beneficiaries of affirmative action, but I do agree that other blacks here also suffer discrimination. Not just blacks even, but again, that's another whole post.

And reparations and/or apologies wouldn't be a reason to get rid of affirmative action in my eyes. When there is no more discrimination against African-Americans, then that's when it should go away. My understanding is that these programs were supposed to be a remedy to alleviate discrimination suffered as a result of the vestiges of slavery. And unfortunately discrimination is still with us. Sorry this response was so long!

Anali said...

suttonhoo - "It's curious to me that we rarely merge the narrative threads of enslavement with the struggle for labor rights in this country. aren't they branches of the same tree?"

You are so right with this statement! It's huge! The two are inextricably linked. Slavery provided free labor for hundreds of years so companies could have bigger profits. Then when slaves were free, nobody wanted to hire African-Americans. Some people still don't.

And the issue of the cost of labor makes me think about how we are having such a big issue with employment in this country now. Corporations are laying off people, cutting health plans and even salaries, so that they can show higher profits in their annual reports and give themselves raises. How I bet some of these CEOs long for the good ole' days when they didn't have to pay for labor.

Anali said...

asha - Thanks!

nance - I do like having more perspectives too. I'm sure that I miss it otherwise sometimes. And money is always an issue. I guess that's what having a market economy is about.

tera - Thanks! I agree that as much as people want to just forget that slavery ever happened, it's effects are still here with us now and cannot be swept under the rug forever. Dirty laundry needs to be aired out and slavery is definitely part of America's dirty laundry.

barkfoot - Great to hear your perspective! Actually when I was thinking about slavery and all the different peoples who have enslaved others and how far back should the apologies go, I realized it was too big of an issue. You're right. Slavery has always been a problem and still is. For the sake of Juneteenth, I'm just dealing with American slavery.

Anali said...

capcity - Thank you! I'm glad that the post touched you. Believe me, my emotions were all over the place when I was writing it too. One thing law school did for me was help me with my writing. I realized that I feel a lot and it comes through when I write, so my first draft I just let it rip. I edit later for emotion. I don't know if reparations will ever happen, but if they ever did, I'd love to have all my student loans forgiven!

And thank you for the Thinking Bloggers Award! That's so nice! I'll put it up within a few days. It's actually my first award!

mizrepresent - That's great that you are finding so much information. It's so true that part of the complexity of slavery is not just that people were owned by others, but that it was often family members. Many of the slaves were children of the master, so it's also about blood relatives, which adds another layer of intensity to the issue.

sojourner g - Welcome! I appreciate your stopping by!

Anali said...

bipolarlawyercook - Thanks for adding to the discussion! Very interesting about the issue of semantics. I think you're right. If society could "do" what is necessary for reparations, but call it something else, maybe it would be more acceptable. I never looked at it that way. But with our current administration, it won't matter though. They don't want to help anyone, except their corporate friends. *sigh, sigh*

cynthia - That's very interesting about the pastors apologizing. I'll have to look for some articles. I guess as part of the African Diaspora, most of us are descendants of slaves and reparations is a global movement. No government wants to pay and each country is watching to see how the others are handling it.

kaylee - Thank you!

Anali said...

david sullivan - Thank you! Wouldn't it be nice if it were a holiday with pay? ; )

I see what you are saying where it could sound like whining to seek an apology and reparations for what happened so long ago. For me it's personal, so I know that I'm biased in my thinking. I sometimes wonder if I were not African-American or not black, how would I feel about it? I don't know. However, I certainly have not been waiting around for government handouts or an apology, nor has anyone in my family. We all have worked really hard and most of us are very well-educated. People have to help themselves. But with that aside, I do believe that the government should apologize and I believe in reparations. Am I sitting waiting for them? No.

And it's true that many people now think that things are all well and good for black people, on one hand it's great that all our accomplishments are noticed. On the other hand, there is still a lot of work to be done. Not everyone is living the dream. Hate crimes still happen. People need to be aware of the reality.

David Sullivan said...

I agree with you 100%.

I think that the reparations would be too little, too late and would be an apeasement as opposed to a true, well-meaning getsure.

Hate crimes of any kind cannot be tolerated in any equal society.

I didn't mean to say there is no justification for whining and being dissatisfied, but as a white man who grew up with few if not fewer opportunities as any person, black or white, I feel that you should come from a place of power and pride than weakness. Looking for or wanting reparations sends the message to the rest of the world that "I can't overcome".

Besides, there isn't enough money in the world to pay for the injustice of slavery and moreso its legacy.

Keep the "dream" alive.

Anali said...

david sullivan - Will do!

aviana - Hey girl! No need to explain. You have a good weekend too! ; )

Suldog said...

Anali - I don't know if this question goes under "philosophy" or "economics", but here goes:

Is it possible to pay reparations if an injustice is ongoing?

I'm not trying to be facetious, but if there is still accumulating effect, how can reparations be successfully determined?

CapCity said...

Suldog - i like the way U think...but i CONTINUE to think that Reparations definitely would NOT HURT....as Sistah Anali stated, i'm not waiting for them - but this gov't paid every OTHER culture that they "victimized & brutalized" to SOME degree - all we as African Americans get is a "pat on the back" for no longer "needing reparations" cuz we've done "so well on our own without the "help of the gov't"...(SMIRK!!!!)...Chris Rock was so on POINT when he compared the relationship of Black Americans to our Gov't to that of a Rape Victim to the Raping Uncle who paid her way thru college...it's a great country...BUT....

Mosilager said...

I love learning stuff, Anali... write as much as you want. We don't really get the African-American perspective in rural Indiana, so it's nice to hear. One of my friends a long time ago was not happy with affirmative action programs because he said that initially it was meant for African-Americans who were descendants of slaves, but later it was expanded to include all minorities. He felt that there should be different programs for other minorities.

Anali said...

suldog - Very interesting. Looking at it pretty simply, the "defendants" are different for the ongoing discrimination. Nobody is enslaved anymore, and for certain specific discriminatory acts, people can file lawsuits and/or complaints with the state or local agency that handles discrimination. That's my best answer. Not sure how right or complete it is.

capcity - Looks like you got this covered!

mosilager - I think your friend was right about the original intent of affirmative action programs. They have changed over the years and covered lots of other groups. It's a big issue and I certainly don't have the answers, just my opinion and the little I've learned over the years.

David Sullivan said...

Is 'Keep the "dream" alive' too corny?

Anali said...

david sullivan - Not at all!!! : )
But then again, I can be a kind of corny!

 
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