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Akbar Thomas Resources and Education

The Day That Symbolizes Our Freedom To Raise Awareness That We’re Still Not Free

The 13th amendment was Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Since there was no social media or any other mass media, Florida didn’t get the official word until May 20th and others like Texas didn’t get the word until June 19th 1865.

Growing up we celebrated Emancipation Day on the Saturday following May 20th if it didn’t fall on a Saturday. We would get new outfits. And we would go out to Walker Ford and spend the day getting our face painted, enjoying local performers, patronizing vendors, and celebrating our blackness. Although we looked forward to the day every year, I don’t believe most truly appreciated its significance. We didn’t appreciate its significance because unless you were taught at home or had the benefit of being at a black school, Emancipation Day and Juneteenth, to this day, are glossed over subjects in our schools.

155 years later, which is not that long ago, these dates are finally not being glossed over and are being talked about in a national level. The irony of it all, however, is in 2020 we have chosen the day that symbolizes our freedom to raise awareness that we’re still not free. The shackles of slavery have been removed but the remnants of slavery remain. The government has taken full advantage of the exception to the 13th amendment by over-policing black communities and as a result a disproportionate amount of black men end up in the criminal system. 155 years later, black people are still receiving less wages, less employment opportunities, and are blocked by the glass ceiling in corporate settings. As we have seen with Covid, we do not receive the same quality of healthcare. Our schools do not fully educate our children. Our families are still recovering.

So as we acknowledge today. Let us recognize that it is more than just a date in time. It is really the time to declare that we are free. We’re not only free from the physical shackles, we are free being brutalized and killed by law enforcement. Although there has been progress, we are free from being second class citizens. Black Lives Matter is more than a slogan. It is a recognition that our lives truly matter in all aspects. This day is more than just a day, it is a recognition that we should truly be free.

Speech given by Mutaqee Akbar in acknowledgement of Juneteenth 2020