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Reflections on Juneteenth

How we remember our history matters.

As the nation observes Juneteenth – this date in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Texas, informing slaves that the Confederacy had lost the war and that they were free under the Emancipation Proclamation – the Equal Justice Initiative reminds us to remember this historical event in context – and accurately:

“As an opportunity for national reflection, Juneteenth invites us all to confront the promises of liberty and justice that remain largely unfulfilled in this nation. Through this reflection, we can recognize and commit to addressing the legacies of racial injustice present in our lives today. Strengthening our understanding of racial history empowers us to create a healthier discourse about race in America and foster an era of truth and justice. … [We are] persuaded that the hope of racial justice in America will be shaped not by the fear and resistance of those who doubt its importance but by the dedicated commitment and action of those who believe in the possibility of racial justice.” 

Read EJI’s full statement and view their compelling video (narrated by EJI’s founder, Bryan Stevenson)

Clyde Kennard Awtt Portrait

Once again we honor and remember those who “believed in the possibility” and pushed forward with “dedicated commitment and action.” To name only a few:

Clyde Kennard, who spent his last years doing hard labor at Parchman Penitentiary – his reward for having the audacity to apply for enrollment at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Fannie Lou Hamer Awtt Portrait

Fannie Lou Hamer, Mississippi sharecropper turned 1960s civil rights leader, who famously said: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Pauli Murray Awtt Portrait

Pauli Murray, first in her class at Howard Law School, first African-American to serve as California deputy attorney general, first African American to earn a doctor of juridical science at Yale University, and first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.

And we are re-inspired by the “dedicated commitment and action” of some young contemporary trailblazers in the AWTT portrait gallery:

Zyahna Bryant, youth leader who brought down the Robert E. Lee statue

Jaysa Hunter-Mellers, who began her environmental activism at age ten

Amara Ifeji, Northeastern student activist recently named 2023 Harry S. Truman Scholar

Farmer, author, historian, educator Leah Penniman

Whistleblower and human rights activist, Dawn Wooten

Martin Luther King Jr Awtt Portrait

We’ll end today’s Juneteenth round-up by highlighting the first comprehensive King biography since David J. Garrow’s work in the late 1900’s. Jonathon Eig, author of King: A Life, gained access to over two decades of newly-discovered and newly-released documents. He writes in depth, with fresh detail, about the great lengths the F.B.I. went to discredit King, in reaction to the Civil Rights Movement’s real threat of overturning the white supremacist status quo in favor of a new social order. Eig also brings out the importance of King’s lesser-known leadership roles – in opposition the the Vietnam War and in favor of economic equality – as well as his personal challenges and human flaws. The New York Times featured an interesting interview with Eig this week, and here’s a glowing review from Trev (@thethinkingpoints) on TikTok. Understanding our history matters.

Bring Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) original portraits to your community.