What Does Freedom Mean?
On Juneteenth and the Ongoing Struggle for Black Liberation and an End to US Imperialism
Earlier this week, US social movements recognized and paid homage to Juneteenth, a historical day in the ongoing struggle for Black liberation, dignity, and freedom.
On January 1, 1863, then US President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that all enslaved people were “free.” However, it took two years before the news reached enslaved people in Texas — even though slave owners knew about the proclamation and never said anything about it. The day that enslaved people found out that they were “free,” June 19, 1865, is recognized as “Juneteenth.” It is now a federal holiday in the US, due in part to the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of George Floyd.
Given these circumstances and the fact that Black people in the US are still denied freedom through slavery’s enduring global legacy — systemic racism, capitalism, and white supremacy — Juneteenth is both about celebrating Black freedom that has come from abolitionist and slave rebellions, and continuing to question what freedom means. Freedom is still being fought through environmental justice and climate justice movements, and through movements to end the criminalization of Black bodies through police brutality and over-incarceration.
Juneteenth did not mean the end of slavery — for that system continues, not just here in the US, but internationally — and we have an opportunity to reclaim Juneteenth as an ongoing global struggle for African liberation, and an end to US imperialism.