OPINION: Celebrating Juneteenth 

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By Marian Wright Edelman

Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

The White House hosted an early Juneteenth concert on June 10 this year, and when President Biden spoke at the celebration, he said that when the Biden-Harris administration made Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021 “it wasn’t just a symbolic gesture. It was a statement of fact. It was a statement of faith. It was a testament to the resilience of generations of Black Americans who kept their eyes set on the nation’s North Star. That North Star was the idea that we’re all created equal in the image of God and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives. While we’ve never lived up to it, we’ve never fully walked away from it either. That’s because of you and generations before you who led the march from slavery to freedom toward a more perfect union.”

As always, we’re called to stay on that march. This year, Juneteenth celebrations coincide with the 60th anniversary of the start of the Civil Rights Movement’s Freedom Summer. On June 14, 1964, hundreds of volunteers – many of them northern white college students – gathered at the Western College for Women (now part of Miami University) in Oxford, Ohio. They were there for trainings with seasoned Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leaders and other Civil Rights Movement activists to prepare for summer voter registration and education work in Mississippi, including coordinating summer Freedom Schools. As a brand new law school graduate I had been fortunate enough to receive one of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF)’s first two fellowships to help young attorneys seeking to practice in the South, and after a year of intensive preparation at LDF’s New York City headquarters, I had opened a new office in Jackson, Mississippi, just in time to witness and assist in the unfolding of the Freedom Summer Project.

Two days into the orientation, organizers received word that one of the Freedom Summer partner churches, Mt. Zion Methodist in Neshoba County, Mississippi, had been attacked and burned. Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) workers Mickey Schwerner, who had been working in Mississippi with his wife Rita, and Mississippi native James Chaney left the Ohio training to go investigate the arson, bringing new volunteer Andrew Goodman back with them. On June 21, the three men were reported missing in Mississippi after being jailed by local police on speeding charges. Their bodies were not found until August 4. The news that our fellow workers were missing swept a huge fear and pall over all of us, including volunteers who were still arriving for the next wave of Freedom Summer training. But the sobering reality of conditions in Mississippi did not stop Freedom Summer from going forward. Most people continued in the movement that over the next few months laid the groundwork for transforming Mississippi and ultimately our nation.

The determination to keep moving forward despite overwhelming obstacles has always been an integral part of the African-American experience. It is also one part of what generations of Black Americans have long celebrated and what our entire nation now honors on Juneteenth. As President Biden also noted, the determination to keep moving towards freedom and equality is still desperately needed right now: “Let’s be clear: There are old ghosts in new garments trying to take us back . . . Our history is not just about the past, it’s about our present and our future. It’s whether that future is a future for all of us, not just for some of us. Folks, Black history is American history.”

Black history is American history, and Juneteenth is another chance to celebrate our full history – and continue fighting back against every new attempt to erase or rewrite it. This is the day to honor every person who has struggled and sacrificed for the fundamental belief that nobody’s free until everybody’s free.

Marian Wright Edelman is Founder and President Emerita of Children’s Defense Fund. For more information, go to childrensdefense.org.

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OPINION: Celebrating Juneteenth 

By Jackson Advocate News Service
June 25, 2024