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Freedom Day

Chattel slavery in America lasted for more than 245 years, marking one of the world’s most egregious human rights crimes in history. Chattel slavery differed from other types of slavery in that it was based on skin color, those enslaved were not recognized or treated as human and it was a generational oppression without limit.

The trafficking of more than 20 million Africans did not only negatively impact those imported to South America, the Caribbean and the American colonies, it has also had a lasting impact on their families back in Africa. For enslaved Africans in colonial America, the rape of women and children, forced labor without pay, torture, malnourishment, lynchings, mutilation, prostitution, sexual assault and being ripped away from relatives was a daily experience.

When the colonies finally won their freedom from England after going to war, the millions of enslaved Africans remained in chains, only allowing for freedom for white colonials. When the documents were written that would serve as the foundation of America, enslaved Africans were ignored again and forced to endure more decades of forced servitude to people who hated, abused, and exploited them.

When chattel slavery became an issue that could no longer be ignored by politicians, war was waged by Southern states who wanted to retain slavery, instead of being the honorable, God-fearing people they are often portrayed as. This deadly American Civil War that lasted four years resulted in the freedom of all the enslaved Africans.

Although the 620,000 people who died in the Civil War was completely avoidable by the Southern states, it proved that southern whites would rather die than allow black people to live in America with freedom. So, it is the last day of the Civil War, June 19, 1865, that became the first day of freedom for the formerly enslaved black people that would eventually become Americans with the 14th Amendment.

June 19th, or Juneteenth is the celebration of freedom from slavery, evil and immorality that other groups of people in America can relate to or have been forced to endure. It is perhaps one of the culture defining characteristics for most black people.

While most Americans celebrate July 4th or Independence Day, for black Americans Juneteenth is our holiday to celebrate freedom and independence. Thanks to President Biden, it became a federal holiday in 2021, although it has been celebrated by black communities since about 1866.

For black communities to not feel free to celebrate Juneteenth is honest indication of a presence of white supremacy and oppression. For many residents in Arkansas, this holiday is fairly new to them for about the last 20 years. Even in Russellville, it has only been officially celebrated within about the last five years. As Russellville continues to work to erode its presence of white supremacy, more people will feel less confident in downplaying or mocking Juneteenth.



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