Published June 23, 2020
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, but establishing the day as a national holiday would also serve as an opportunity for intense reflection for all people dedicated to issues of freedom and social justice to recommit themselves to working toward the never-realized goals of post-Civil War reconstruction, according to Cecil Foster, professor of transnational studies.
“We are experiencing what could be a new abolitionist moment on multiple levels in this country,” says Foster. “People all over the world are once again looking to the United States, as they did at the end of the Civil War, to form a new social order where freedom for all humanity is on display.
“Juneteenth should be our national moment of pause, a day that inspires everyone to reflect on what has been achieved, as it also reminds us of how much is left to be accomplished before every American is allowed to live in dignity and realize the rights of full citizenship.”
The death of George Floyd gave this year’s Juneteenth a profoundly deep resonance that Foster says raises the very issues that were central to the intended reforms following the Civil War.
“During reconstruction, the country entered a brief moment when it appeared social justice issues would be at the forefront of the effort, where the full humanity of former slaves and the people who fought for their freedom would be met through equality, appreciation, citizenship and a sense of belonging.”
But that didn’t happen.
Jim Crow laws extinguished the promise of reform. Foster says that as the southern states rejoined the union, they brought with them the same corrosive indifference toward a universal humanity that nearly dissolved the country, only this time the brutality rematerialized as inhumane statutes that found both legal and cultural toeholds that firmly established anti-democratic policies of segregation, oppression and exclusion that lasted for nearly another 100 years.
Failing to fully extend civil rights, despite Constitutional amendments that were supposed to guarantee those promises, led to a new kind of bondage.
“We cannot ignore this,” says Foster. “And establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday will always remind us that freedom, citizenship and social justice should be this country’s promise to all Americans.”