The Waiting Hour
Can you imagine what it was like of those collected masses in those last hours of waiting?
I imagine it was some combination of feelings like a child’s Christmas morning combined with Marti Gras and gods knows what else …all on steroids . It was a collective birthday celebration for over three and a half million people who lived in bondage. But that moment was also sprinkled with healthy amounts of trepidation. It was not lost on any one slave that the date made have made them free, but the time they lived in was far from unified in that belief.
Remember, the war still in full force where they many lived and the idea of just packing up and going could and did have deadly consequences. As the union army gained more ground in the south they brought the wave of freedom and a degree of security with them. But till then, those newly freed people, millions of them, were still caught in the waiting hour
For the people of Galveston Texas, it was another two and a half years for the wave reached them. One thousand miles away. Twenty-one thousand nine hundred more waiting hours.
Once that wave of emancipation started to roll across the country, Black people got on with doing what the vast majority of people who are afforded a new measure of their God given humanity do. Breath freer. Live something closer to a more normal life. Try as best they know how to elevate their dignity. Believe their children can have something better. When safety allowed, they went about reuniting families torn apart. Aspired to literacy.
As they built schools during reconstruction it was common to see parents sitting alongside their children learning to read and write. They built their own churches and prayed openly in places where thy never could. They worked for pay. Though in for many of those who had to rely on sharecropping.
This system was little better than slavery 2.0 where former masters and alike would squeeze and cheat every fairly earned penny out of the land workers. For those who had skills, trades or who were fortunate, they were able to work for something closer to their worth. They began to build communities. They ran for public office to advocate for themselves and their communities on the local, state, and national levels. In some instances, out of necessity and sometimes fellowship, they built cooperative relations with the white communities around them. What they did not do was go on campaigns of revenge and retribution.
Long story short, they got on with living up to the American creed that had been too long denied them. If you look at the history of this country, no group that has ever been given the natural right of more dignity has ever gone seeking revenge. Women, once granted the right to vote, did not vote the men out of office on mass. Children, once protected by labor laws, did not lay around looking for handouts. Asians, who for a great period of time in the here were protected by no laws, did not seek retribution for all they lost for more than a century. This is one fact that should never be forgotten.
Juneteenth was the official closing of a chapter of American atrocity. But it was also the final landing point for a new chapter defined by not just the overt oppression of violence, but every kind of subvert degradation that could be imagined.
All of it in the attempt of exercising some supremacy that was then and is now antithetical to the American Creed. More importantly, all that ugliness of spirit and deed was a direct assault on the American Dream.
The American dream has always relied on its people living up to the most aspirational words in our founding documents. Not just the easiest ones. When we think about the critical words of the declaration of independence, we often focus on the first part of the most critical idea. I believe that Harvard Professor Danielle Allen has said it as simply as anyone ever has. Click here to take a listen.
Because most people only focus the first part of that sentence, not enough of us take on the full responsibility of what it truly means to me American citizens.
It effectively says that it is the responsibility of the whole of our citizenry to protect the assertion made in the first part of that sentence. The ideas mean little if the “best most” of us do not actively stand up for those who cannot stand on their own. The majority has the power to change the system. The non-majority has the vision to show us all where the deep problems lie. But only if the majority is willing to not just listen but do something about it.
In 1863, those newly freed people never did was punish or engage their former captors in reprisals. But no one seemed to stand up for that part of the narrative that lived within segments of the white population. They disregarded or flat out denied the humanity of their these newly freed people. They set aside the law and went about justifying their actions based on hatred and lies. Unwilling to accept change, the forced their will on the most vulnerable. Those false narratives of menace and violence plagued many communities and was used to justify all manner of inhumane treatment and unconscionable treatment.
Restricting the Owning of firearms
The inception of the KKK
Barriers to voting
And a host of other indignities, large and small designed not just compromise a people but the larger dream that governed all
Long story short, they conspired to pervert the American dream to impose white supremist nationalism. They actively worked against millions of people. And the only reason it happened was that not enough decent people stood in the breach. The civil war may have ended, but a new declaration of war had been made. And make no mistake, it was heard by all.
To me, this is the central lesson of Juneteenth. Far too many good people refuse to exercise our national declaration. They did not for those newly freed people. Nor did they do it for the sake of law or for the sake of constitution.
The 13th 14th and 15th Amendments were designed to fold in and protect those newly freed people into the American dream. To make them whole citizen of a country they did not ask for but were born into. I believe this has to do with apathy and ignorance.
National studies show that just under one quarter of all American volunteer their time to causes. All causes. We are also shamefully low in reference to our voter participation. The Pew Center reports that we come in 31st out of the 36 major democratic countries in the world at about 55%. If you have not noticed, there are people who hope to capitalize on that ignorance and apathy.
As early as a couple of years after the south lost the war, their former president Jefferson Davis started to reframe it as the south not losing as much as it was the end of a chapter. He let the poison slowly drip into the minds of his southern countrymen and women. It, in part was responsible for starting “The Cult of the Lost Cause”. The death of Abraham Lincoln only empowered angry racists to intensify their violent assault as union troupes left the south. In less than 20 years he was outwardly and unapologetically saying this.
"The contest is not over; the strife is not ended. It has only entered upon a new and enlarged arena." "The principle for which we contend is bound to reassert itself, though it may be at another time and in another form."
Less than twenty years after he spoke those words America experienced its second violent insurrection. On November 10th,1898 in Wilmington NC the legally elected Fusion Party; which consisted of both black and white membership was violently deposed for the power it had gained just two days earlier. This was done by men who openly proclaimed themselves “White Supremacists”. The numbers of dead have never been confirmed but they run anywhere from 60 to 300. For decades the narrative of these events was perverted and called a Black motivated riot.
I took little more than a generation for the ugliness of lies to lead to treason once again. The last couple of years have given us a stark look at some views of some of the issues that still conspire to undermine the American dream.
A War on Science
Necessary Police reform
Wage and financial inequity
A boogie man of Critical Race Theory
Ferocious Political animus
Domestic terror and an assault on our democracy itself
We have gone from “Alternative Facts” to “Fake News” to “Stop the Steal” in a matter of a few years. It all seems to be driven by an unquenchable cynicism and ferocious ignorance. The same ignorance that has fueled some for generations. The current January 6th hearings opened with a statement of warning for all those who do not believe that the ignorance I speak of is not fueled by the lesser angles of one’s nature.
BENNY Thompson opening: Listen from 0:45 to 1:26.
What he did not mention is that the apathy of the masses is the best accelerant.
It is up to all of us who say we know and care to reach deeper into those who care but don’t know and wrench them from their ignorant bliss. Stop talking. Start doing and bring a friend or two along.
I believe that the only reason that the only reason so many of these issue are as bad as they are because there are still far too many willing to retreat into comfort and privilege while Black Lives. LGBTQAI Lives. Poor Lives. Women’s Lives. Emotionally Tormented Live. American Lives suffer and die. Now our democracy is more visibly in the balance as well.
Some would argue that we are on the edge of losing it all. I see it as a moment of clarity. If you cannot see how desperately your country and the people in it need you then maybe you are too far gone. Take comfort in this reality, you do not have to face this work along. If enough of you believe that we can change our trajectory it will change. Every one of us is the hero in this American story. We got to tell the story. But the story is told in actions, not just words.
I have always believed that there are… we are, all of us a journey toward more compassion. That we are more selfless than selfish. I have always believed that if we are to better realize this American dream we must actively look for the moments to stand with and protect whatever group is comprised of body and spirit.
They have always been among us. And sadly, the narrative of their pain has always had to compete with the ugly lies and falsehoods used to justify why they are not worthy. Or worse still, to hold on to longstanding ignorance which compromises us all.
The longstanding lies that cover the monument of white supremacy have poisoned our national spirit for centuries. They have led to all manner of national perversion. Marginalized groups have been pulling back the shroud of those lies for just as long, but we cannot pull down the monument. Not on our own.
I need you all to know something right now. I love each and every one of you. Love in the way every group that you can to aid would love you when you come to their rescue. I love you for the possibilities and potential that you embody as a member of my family. My American family. Through our national creed and the power your individual compassion we can change the world.
Why would I not love you for that? But as anyone who is a parent or married knows Love comes with a cost. If you don’t pay it, well……
I will leave you with the words of James Baldwin who in “A Letter to my Nephew” spoke of:
“One can be--indeed, one must strive to become--tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of war; remember, I said most of mankind, but it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”
What Baldwin does not say, I will. For every crime of conscience unaddressed; there is a punishment of spirit that must be paid.
God bless you all.