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Even though President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it took over 2 years for the executive order to reach the far depths of the Confederacy. It wasn't until June 19th, 1865 that the last remaining enslaved learned of their freedom, when Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas. The following year and ever since, the day has been commemorated with celebration, prayer, and reflection.
When we look back on Juneteenth 2020, we must remember the added weight with which the day was commemorated, with demonstrations worldwide that protest police brutality, systemic racism, and the ignorant who don't understand what we mean when we say Black Lives Matter. Dr. Jocelyn Boryczka, (Associate Vice Provost for Scholarly, Creative, and Community Engagement and Professor of Politics), provides context for Juneteenth in this moment with her essay, "Re-membering", which she shared with the Fairfield University community on June 19th, 2020. Her essay is reproduced below along with links to the resources that she cited in the essay, as well as other resources that she recommends.
Jocelyn M. Boryczka, PhD
Associate Vice Provost for Scholarly, Creative, and Community Engagement
Professor of Politics
Remembering. Taking a moment to reflect on past experiences - riding your bike without training wheels for the first time, traveling to a new place, celebrating holidays with family - form our memories. Our personal memories join together, accruing over time to become histories and a collective national consciousness. These shape who we are and how we move in the world whether or not we fully recognize it.
Today, we celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday recognized by most states, including Connecticut, and the District of Columbia, that marks the day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the end of the Civil War and slavery, two and a half years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Black Texans began celebrating this day in 1866 and others across the nation have joined in. Parades, dances, and backyard cookouts allow for rejuvenation and restoration.
This Juneteenth, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement reignited by George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers, calls us to attend to a much harder, painful part of remembering. Dismembering requires the pulling apart and dissection of how and what we understand to be our body politic. White people in this country are called to recognize their privilege and power acquired through systematic oppression of black Americans, and brown Americans and indigenous peoples. This call resonates in cities across the globe as white, black, and brown people join on the streets in mutual recognition of what, Charles Mills specifies as the racial contract built on the oppression of non-white, non-European peoples from the United States and United Kingdom to Tanzania and Taiwan. Race and racism, simply put, structure how our world operates. Remembering this dismembers - pulls apart - how many white people understand themselves and the communities in which they live.
Forgetting is a form of privilege that pulls communities apart. A black man riding on a packed Metro North train with the only empty seat beside him, poet Claudia Rankin reminds us, can never forget that he is a black man. It is carved into every fiber of his being. Forgetting your race is a privilege of white people. Dismantling this white privilege entails white people remembering the systemic power that they exercise now and have done so throughout history. It entails dismembering a particular version of the world by remembering the over 400-year history of slavery recently captured in the 1619 Project founded by Nikole Hannah-Jones and archived in the Smithsonian’s “Remembering Slavery Project,” and Fairfield University’s own Fairfield Slavery Project.
Dismembering as remembering involves a vulnerability inherent to practices such as radical hospitality. This vulnerability requires individuals to reach beyond who they understand themselves to be by putting their ancestry and history - their experiences and memories - into a much more complex national and global consciousness onto the face of which racism is etched as a defining feature. This shift illuminates the shared vulnerability of human life where we can begin to find each other anew, on a plane of welcoming and being welcomed where equity, diversity, and inclusivity may truly emerge.
Remembering is the first step in re-membering as we move from pulling apart to a coming together, even a reconnecting of the body politic torn asunder by racism from Ferguson and Charlottesville to Minneapolis and Atlanta. Galveston, Texas, the birthplace of Juneteenth in 1865, grants us a site for recalling the history of slavery and a celebration of freedom. We re-member - at a time when nearly 120,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 - our deep human need for relationship and community in the face of isolation and physical distancing. To re-member our communities, we will need to practice sankofa, a Ghanian word that means looking back to move forward. At this juncture, peoples build coalitions across races, religions, borders, and generations, the very coalitions enacting the fact that Black Lives Matter.