19. June 2015 10:58
by Administrator

Price of Freedom, Burden of Terrorism by Ahmad Ward

19. June 2015 10:58 by Administrator | 0 Comments

June 19, 2015 marks 150 years since the ending of slavery in America.  This day is commonly known as “Juneteenth.” Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free.  Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which had become official January 1, 1863. Many slave owners sent their slaves to Texas to “stash” them until after the war.  The goal was to retrieve them after a Confederate victory.  Once the South fell, it was finally feasible for the Union forces to come in and effectively free the slaves.  June 19th would then become a day of celebration for newly freed blacks in the South. The Juneteenth holiday should stand as an opportunity for the country to acknowledge “freedom” for all its citizens.  However, the freed blacks were anything but free.

Until the end of slavery, Black people were always depicted as fiercely loyal, docile, and completely devoted to the slave masters. This was done to counteract the work of abolitionists who chronicled the savagery of the “peculiar institution.”   It was only after emancipation, that Blacks inherited the stereotypes of being extremely violent, untrustworthy, dangerous and prone to the need to rape white women. They regaled the masses with the notion that ex-slaves would take over the country and change the American way of life.  The goal here was to hamstring the already difficult effort of freed Blacks to become independent American citizens.   For the next 100 years, Black people would endure the most concentrated form of domestic terrorism on American citizens in the country’s history.   However, America has done its best to avoid calling it by that name.  Despite the night riding of the Klan, the hundreds and hundreds of “sanctioned” lynchings, the various murders of Civil Rights workers, Black people who tried to register to vote, and “troublemakers,” the word “terrorism” has never been used.

Even with one of the most heinous events of Jim Crow, the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, it was never called terrorism.   Four girls, killed while getting ready to sing in the choir, on Youth Day, in September 1963.  Why is that?   Is it because violence against minorities in America was part of the status quo?  That was “just the way things are?”  Were people too frightened to take the terminology to the next level, because of what could happen to them? In many occasions in the past, the perpetrators of these crimes were set free or not even brought to justice.  During the last part of the twentieth century, with the reopening of Civil Rights cases, we have seen murderers brought to justice.  Notably, three of the individuals who bombed Sixteenth Street, over fifty years ago.  Unfortunately, these extreme acts have not ceased in America. Shootings in schools, movie theaters and yes, places of worship continue to plague this country.  Although the title of “Terrorist” doesn’t seem to fit everyone.

Earlier this week, a twenty-one year old named Dylann Roof walked into a Bible study at a historic Black church and murdered 9 people, including the pastor and an 87 year old woman.  As he reloaded his gun, he spoke of the same stereotypes that have been used to denigrate Black people since the end of slavery. “Taking over the country.”  “Raping ‘our’ women.”  The first words used to describe this shooter, like many of the shooters we’ve seen over the last five years who didn’t fit the narrative:  mentally disturbed, troubled, loner, etc. The events in Charleston have been likened to what happened in Birmingham at Sixteenth Street church.  That horrible day in 1963, helped to change the landscape and the minds of America about what was happening in the Jim Crow South.  Perhaps we can see something come out of the tragedy in South Carolina.

Maybe we will actually have honest conversations about race and “cause and effect.”

Maybe we will see that some people will understand that language has power.

Maybe we will start to call this what it is.   Terrorism. Tried and true, just like Racism in America.


Happy Juneteenth.


Ahmad Ward is the Head of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI

Add comment