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Some Thoughts on Juneteenth 

06/16/2022 09:14:55 AM


Guest Blogger: Daniela Weil

Do you know the date that enslaved Africans were legally freed by the Emancipation Proclamation? 

Answer: It was New Year's Day, 1863. 

Now another question: Were enslaved people in the US set free on that date?

Answer: No. Freedom was a process. It started in the North and as you traveled South, the acknowledgement of that new reality was not simple. Making it happen had to be forced and enforced. The further from the table in which that document lay, the more different was the reality from the words that were written in the law.

And then there was Texas. The last stronghold of the rebel forces that still fired against government troops. The enslaved people of Texas had to endure two and a half more years of whippings, babies being torn away from mothers, and every type of dehumanization process that ever existed. Two and a half years! At last, on June 19th, a final surrender in Galveston. This day has been celebrated by freed enslaved humans across the country every year, for 157 years. It is, according to scholar-historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “... one of the most inspiring grassroots efforts of the post-Civil War period.”

And next, after June 19,1865, began the concerted efforts to target Black people. Former slaves couldn't stand or sit about in the streets. They could only be seen working. They couldn’t aggregate in groups. Couldn’t make any noise. They had no job options except to be paid very little for what they were already doing. They were homeless. They had no healthcare…

Juneteenth represents an example of the law versus reality on the ground. A document sitting in Congress, and slavery on the streets and in people’s minds. Denishia Hearon, chair of CU Denver’s Black Faculty and Staff Affinity group says “Juneteenth is not just the end of slavery, but the ACKNOWLDEGEMENT of freedom.” The holiday does not mark one day but rather honors a PROCESS of racial equality that is still ongoing. 

Enforcing the law that gives freedom and equality to Black people in America is still the issue. Many white people still argue that there is no such thing as systemic racism because the law is now the same for everyone. The words of the “law” may protect Black people. But people are not the law. People are people. And people make up systems. People are judges who make biased decisions. People are biased juries who hold freedom or death in their hands. People are bosses who hire predominantly white folks. People are frightened, angry, and trigger-happy. People are bank lenders who say “No”. People are white neighbors worried about the value of their homes. People are doctors who make life and death decisions. People are teachers with control issues and lack of training. People are allies who don’t understand trauma. People are well meaning congregants who don’t realize their minds are as narrow as Mitzrayim.*

As we sit in the heart of Texas, wanting to do right for on the upcoming Juneteenth, may we not just be happy for the end of slavery with our black brothers and sisters, may we learn to acknowledge what freedom and equality really mean.

*According to the text on Jewish mysticism, the Zohar, the name is derived from m’tzarim, meaning “narrow straits” (mi, “from,” tzar, “narrow” or “tight”). When God took us out of Mitzrayim, God extricated us from the place of constricted opportunities, tight control, and narrow-mindedness.

Contact Daniela Weil at if you’re interested in joining our next round of Chavuraction Circles, CBI’s very own anti-racist chavura groups.

Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784