This guest post on Juneteenth is by Bexley resident and BMPA parent/member, Courtney Baker. Bexley will be hosting their inaugural Juneteenth celebration from 12-5 p.m. on Saturday, June 19, 2021 on Capital University’s Main Street Lawn — more details can be found on the City of Bexley website.
Somewhere between historical amnesia and “alternative facts” is a term I’ve begun to call “mismemories.” Mismemories are not meant to purposely deceive, nor are the incidents in question completely forgotten, but they become a precariously constructed chain of events meant to be declarative, yet often vague and elusive. Toes in the water of truth.
Good Americans, like myself, use mismemories all the time. Like a well-crafted statement in the mouth of a seasoned politician, there is an essence of “truthiness,” but you usually have to tilt your head and close one eye. Who among us didn’t grow up learning that “Christopher Columbus discovered America“ or “President Lincoln freed all the slaves?” For day-to-day living, these statements come close enough to the truth to be satisfying.
Growing up, I regarded Juneteenth as the day slavery ended in Texas. Yes, on June 19, 1865, General Granger’s Union troops read Order #3 stating, “All slaves are free,” and it has been a moment joyously celebrated in various communities across the nation since 1866. But for me, my mismemory of the Juneteenth holiday consisted of distasteful bazaars full of cheap t-shirts, Africa medallions, and pungently-scented incense. It had become a sham of a holiday, and I didn’t think much more about it.
So sadly, for much of my life, I missed the joy of celebrating the emancipation of enslaved peoples in Texas. But the more I discover about the events of Juneteenth, and the more I dig into my own personal history, I realize that for me, and for the nation, Juneteenth needs to be so much more.
Juneteenth should be about the forgotten among us. Born to enslaved parents in Tennessee, Amos Brackeen’s captors moved him to Texas to “escape” the influence that abolitionists might have over their property. (Americans have a distinctly tragic quality of adding insult to profound injury). Amos and another two hundred fifty thousand enslaved Africans languished in bondage for an additional two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. As deplorable and mortifying as that is, current events reveal that our propensity to forget is not limited to Texas, nor to past generations. One hundred years after the bloodiest race riot in US history, details of the Tulsa Race Massacre are finally beginning to emerge.
Juneteenth is also about things left undone. While Abraham Lincoln did pen the Emancipation Proclamation, it didn’t free all enslaved people, and it wasn’t strongly enforced. “Freedom for all” would prove to be a failed priority on America’s to-do list. In fact, emancipation was not the main objective of General Granger’s orders on June 19, 1865. Sent to Texas to quell former Confederate soldiers’ rebellion and looting, the Union army was tasked with restoring order to the district of Texas. Orders #1, #2, #4, and #5 had nothing at all to do with slavery. Emancipation of the enslaved would be a messy after-thought, at best.
Today, there is no shortage of matters still left undone in this land of democracy. We chant, “Black Lives Matter,” while a U.S. Anti-Lynching Bill sits unsigned. The need for police reform and new police leadership stalls, despite an ever-growing list of unarmed persons of color killed or injured by police. Systemic racism continues to be a public health crisis. And the wealth gap and access to equitable resources spiral out of control.
2021 will mark the first observance of Juneteenth by the City of Bexley, Ohio, a town roughly 1200 miles from Galveston, Texas. This year, let’s have the bravery and courage to correctly remember Juneteenth for all that it is—a celebration, yes; but also an upward calling for justice and progress.
– Courtney Baker, Bexley resident, Great-great-granddaughter of Amos Brackeen