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COMMENTARY: Juneteenth Holiday Touches Collective Memory of African American: It Deserves Honor

Dec. 31, 1862, then, would become the Watch Night of all Watch Nights. Ninety-nine days earlier, Pres. Abraham Lincoln had announced his intention to free people enslaved in most of the Southern states. It was sometime late the morning of Jan. 1, 1863, when Lincoln finally signed the document known as the Emancipation Proclamation and word immediately crossed the country, tapped out in Morse code on telegraph wires.

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Martha Yates Jones (left) and Pinkie Yates (right), daughters of Rev. Jack Yates, in a decorated carriage parked in front of the Antioch Baptist Church located in Houston's Fourth Ward, 1908. Photo courtesy of Houston Public Library Digital Collection.Martha Yates Jones (left) and Pinkie Yates (right), daughters of Rev. Jack Yates, in a decorated carriage parked in front of the Antioch Baptist Church located in Houston's Fourth Ward, 1908. Photo courtesy of Houston Public Library Digital Collection.
Martha Yates Jones (left) and Pinkie Yates (right), daughters of Rev. Jack Yates, in a decorated carriage parked in front of the Antioch Baptist Church located in Houston's Fourth Ward, 1908. Photo courtesy of Houston Public Library Digital Collection.

By Wanda J. Ravernell

It was a long time coming.

For centuries, they had prayed, fought and died seeking freedom from slavery.

The day they had awaited they called ‘Jubilee.’

Depending on where they resided, the day of ‘Jubilee’ came in fits and starts. In New Hampshire, the last slave was freed in 1853, New York in 1827 and Pennsylvania by 1810.

Enslaved people vicariously celebrated the 1791 revolt in Haiti leading to the first Black republic in the Western Hemisphere in 1804. The 1834 manumission of Blacks in Jamaica was another milestone.

During the slave era, New Year’s Day was dreaded as it was when enslavers settled their debts with the lives of their ‘property.’ New Year’s Eve, then was not celebrated, but rather spent in fervent prayer that their loved ones not be sold away.

Dec. 31, 1862, then, would become the Watch Night of all Watch Nights. Ninety-nine days earlier, Pres. Abraham Lincoln had announced his intention to free people enslaved in most of the Southern states. It was sometime late the morning of Jan. 1, 1863, when Lincoln finally signed the document known as the Emancipation Proclamation and word immediately crossed the country, tapped out in Morse code on telegraph wires.

But news of Jubilee didn’t reach Texas.

It would be two and half years and more than two months after the Confederate army surrendered to a Union Army that included Black men that soldiers brought the news to Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865.

The date would be contracted to Juneteenth and become the most widely and continuous celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S. Other states had Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, but those observations had died out as, for the sake of assimilation, Blacks distanced themselves from that dark past.

But not Black Texans, who took their custom with them during the Great Migration that began in earnest in 1915.

In Western cities with sizeable Black populations Juneteenth observations sprang up without the sanction of local government. (Texas would declare Juneteenth a statewide holiday in 1980.)

San Francisco (48 years), Berkeley (35 years), San Jose (41 years) and Vallejo (28 years) are Bay Area cities that have formalized the observation.

In Oakland, for the third year, Councilmember Loren Taylor and Project Lend A Hand– which provides school supplies for needy children — will hold a Juneteenth fundraiser called In the Town.

Barbara Howard of Brilliant Minds Inc., has held a Juneteenth the Last Saturday of the month since 2008. It will take place on June 25, 2022 ,at 925 Brockhurst St. It is free and open to the public

Others, like American Canyon, are holding their first Juneteenths, now that it has become the latest federal holiday, signed into law by Pres. Joe Biden on June 17, 2021.

Juneteenths have typically followed the pattern of those in Texas with parades, barbecues, and festivals, but making Juneteenth a national holiday has some Black people wondering what to do.

Unlike the other holidays that mark the summer, this one has meaning closer to our collective heart.

Frederick Douglass famously asked, “to what is the slave the Fourth of July?” because they had no freedom to celebrate.

Flowers brought to gravesides mark the monuments to loss on Memorial and Veterans’ Day.

But for many of us, these holidays (holy days) are mostly opportunities to gather with loved ones, have some food, play cards, eat some ’que and dance to recorded music in the summer and sleep late on chilly November 11.

So, what do we do with this holiday? This clearly holy day for our enslaved ancestors? How do we honor those who didn’t live to see the day of Jubilee?

And then there’s the quintessential question pushing forward from the back of the collective Black mind: How free are we? With mass incarceration and the persistent ills of the modern Jim Crow era, some would say that slavery never ended.

Research shows that in the initial decades after the news reached Galveston, the formerly enslaved went to church and prayed and gave thanks for the freedom they had attained.

More than 150 years later, perhaps we can set our natural cynicism aside long enough to be happy for our ancestors’ moment.

Perhaps, we won’t go to church. But we can light a candle. We can sing a freedom song together or sing the Black National Anthem in its entirety. We can hang the black, red and green Liberation colors or the Juneteenth flag in the front window.

We can set aside a symbolic plate of ’que, potato salad and greens and pour on the ground a libation of some red drink – hibiscus or Johnny Walker Red.

We can express our gratitude that they lived so we could live.

But perhaps most important, we need to teach our children. And maybe, just maybe they’ll bless us with a freestyle rhyme in the holy names of our ancestors.

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Black History

Ketanji Brown Jackson Sworn In as Newest Supreme Court Justice

Replacing Breyer, Brown Jackson made history as the first African American woman to serve on the highest court in the U.S. and will assume duties immediately, but her formal investiture will occur in the fall.

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Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson made history as the first African American woman to serve on the highest court in the U.S.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson made history as the first African American woman to serve on the highest court in the U.S.

On Thursday June 30, 2022, Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, was sworn in by one of her mentors, Justice Steven Breyer, while her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, held both the family Bible and one donated to the Supreme Court in 1906. Replacing Breyer, Brown Jackson made history as the first African American woman to serve on the highest court in the U.S. and will assume duties immediately, but her formal investiture will occur in the fall.

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Black History

OPINION: Black Women Will Suffer Harshest Consequences After the Overturn of Roe

The impact of new abortion bans and restrictions will be felt most acutely by poor and working-class Black women — Black women are significantly more likely to live in poverty compared to white women. For these women, the overturning of Roe won’t mean that abortions will end; it will mean that access to critical, potentially life-saving healthcare will move hundreds of miles out of reach. It will mean time off of work (likely unpaid) and travel and childcare costs — expenses that may not be possible for women living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to simply put meals on the table.

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Glynda Carr is president and CEO of Higher Heights for America.
Glynda Carr is president and CEO of Higher Heights for America.

By Glynda Carr

The Supreme Court just dealt a devastating blow to reproductive rights. With its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, five Republican-appointed Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court swept away half a century of progress and eviscerated women’s rights and equality. After last month’s leaked opinion, we knew this moment could come, but that doesn’t make the news any easier to digest.

For Black women in this country, the decision is especially devastating. Thirteen percent of American women are Black, but 38% of people receiving abortion care are Black. Abortion is necessary healthcare — and a lack of access can quite literally mean life or death for many Black women. This is especially true for Black women who have lower incomes, live in rural areas, and do not have access to health care because of systemic racism and discrimination.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women and are more likely to face maternal health issues. With new abortion restrictions and bans, these health outcomes are expected to get even worse: a 2021 Duke University study estimated the potential death toll following a total abortion ban and found a 33% increase in Black women who died due to pregnancy-related complications.

The states that are already moving to ban abortion are among those with the largest Black populations in the country. Consider Mississippi, the state with the highest percentage of Black residents in the nation, and one of the 13 states with a “trigger law” that ensured the decision would result in a near-immediate ban on abortion access. Three other states with the highest proportion of Black residents — Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas — have these trigger laws in place, and many other states, especially in the South, are moving to severely restrict or outright ban abortion.

The impact of new abortion bans and restrictions will be felt most acutely by poor and working-class Black women — Black women are significantly more likely to live in poverty compared to white women. For these women, the overturning of Roe won’t mean that abortions will end; it will mean that access to critical, potentially life-saving healthcare will move hundreds of miles out of reach. It will mean time off of work (likely unpaid) and travel and childcare costs — expenses that may not be possible for women living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to simply put meals on the table.

At a time like this, when daughters suddenly have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers, it is challenging to imagine a way forward. But the answer is to do everything we can to restore our rights and ensure every woman has access to the healthcare they need and deserve, a right afforded to them under our nation’s Constitution.

To do that, we need to elect and elevate more Black women. Black women have been at the forefront of the fight to protect and expand reproductive rights — from members of Congress like Reps. Cori Bush, Ayanna Pressley, and Lauren Underwood, to our first Black woman Vice President Kamala Harris, to soon-to-be-seated Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

We must elect Stacey Abrams to lead the state of Georgia — one of the states that is now positioned to severely restrict — or overturn the right to access abortion care under the leadership of their current governor, Brian Kemp.

And finally, we need to not only encourage, but throw our unwavering support behind more Black women from all across the country to run for office — women who personally understand the deep impact that a lack of healthcare and abortion restrictions have on communities that have lacked fair representation for far too long.

Today and every day, I stand with my partners and allies ready to continue the critical fight for access to affordable, safe, legal abortions for all women, no matter where they live, how they identify, or how much money they have. We will not back down.

Glynda Carr is president and CEO of Higher Heights for America, the only national organization providing Black women with a political home exclusively dedicated to harnessing their power to expand Black women’s elected representation and voting participation, and advance progressive policies.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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Bay Area

Oakland Mayor Greets Old Friend at Lakefest

Both Oakland natives, Jones and Schaaf became acquainted when the mayor was an Oakland City Councilmember representing District 4. Back then Jones taught her his breathing/aerobics exercises at his fitness studio in the Laurel District, which the mayor has utilized ever since, and which has been an invaluable tool in contributing to her overall health and wellness.

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Jonathan ‘Fitness’ Jones and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
Jonathan ‘Fitness’ Jones and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

At Oakland’s Third Annual LakeFest celebration on June 25, 2022, Oakland Post Ambassador Jonathan ‘Fitness’ Jones ran into longtime friend and supporter Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

As Schaaf exited the stage after making remarks at an event touting Oakland culture through music, dance, fashion, food and more, she greeted Jones by demonstrating his highly acclaimed “breathing aerobics” technique.

Both Oakland natives, Jones and Schaaf became acquainted when the mayor was an Oakland City Councilmember representing District 4. Back then Jones taught her his breathing/aerobics exercises at his fitness studio in the Laurel District, which the mayor has utilized ever since, and which has been an invaluable tool in contributing to her overall health and wellness.

With over 30 years of experience in the health and fitness field, Jones is a member of the African American Sports & Entertainment Group and creator of Breathing Aerobics, a health and wellness company that specializes in teaching specific breathing exercises to improve overall health. He has taught Breathing Aerobics on major television and radio stations, which has earned him the moniker, “Guru of Breathing.”

For more info on Breathing Aerobics go to www.breathingaerobics.com

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