Juneteenth and the George Floyd RebellionThe history of the United States is a series of racial conflicts interspersed with periods of incremental reforms.
By Makheru Bradley
Juneteenth 2020 comes nearly 401 years after the first Afrikans were forced onto these shores, into slavery and servitude. This year’s celebration of Juneteenth (June 19, 1865), which is recognized by many Afrikan Americans as the end of the daily terror of Chattel Slavery, comes in the midst of yet another racial conflict, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created an economic crisis for millions of Americans.
The dynamics of the George Floyd Rebellion
The filmed lynching of George Floyd on May, 25 ,2020, by Minneapolis police officers, generated an enormous outburst of protests, demanding justice for Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other victims of police and racial violence, along with demands for police and criminal justice reforms. Many protesters have called for defunding, dismantling, and restructuring America’s police forces. America’s police forces were formed to protect specific people and their property. They were never designed to provide the human right to public safety for Afrikan Americans.
The George Floyd protests have been youth-led, multi-racial in character, and often predominately white. If these protests are to become an organizing tool for real power, they must be led by historically-grounded, radically-conscious Black youth who tap into the experiences serious veteran activists, not those celebrity opportunists who would mislead them. These cycles from oppression, to reforms, to oppression, must be broken.
What does Juneteenth say to the George Floyd Rebellion?
Juneteenth is a history of resistance, perseverance, rebellion, and resilience by Afrikan people in the United States. It is a history of protracted struggle against the most diabolical system of oppression and exploitation this world has ever seen – Chattel Slavery. That struggle took many forms. Afrikan resistance to chattel slavery began immediately upon the arrival of the 20 and Odd at Point Comfort, Virginia in August 1619. Some Afrikans escaped to freedom to live among the Indigenous People. Sometimes they escaped to live in sanctuaries like the Dismal Swamp in Virginia. They did simple things like breaking the tools they were forced to use on tobacco plantations. Sometimes a plantation owner mysteriously died, as a result of food poisoning.
When we celebrate Juneteeth we absorb the spirit of the 1739 Stono Rebellion in South Carolina; of the Prosser Brothers who planned a revolt in Virginia in 1800; of Charles Deslondes and the 1811 German Coast Uprising in Louisiana; of Denmark Vesey, Gullah Jack Pritchard and all of the Afrikans in the planned 1822 rebellion in Charleston, SC; of David Walker and his 1829 “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World;” of Nat Turner and his 1831 rebellion; of Harriet Tubman and her numerous trips to free enslaved Afrikans; of the Gullah People who fled to Florida and fought the US Army, along with Indigenous People, in three wars between 1816 and 1858; of Dred and Harriet Scott whose legal challenges for their freedom resulted in the 1857 Dred Scott Decision, a key event which led to the Civil War, and of countless others known and unknown who continuously escaped from chattel slavery, and their allies.
Juneteenth says to the George Floyd Rebellion, what Frederick Douglass said: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress... This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Cycles of oppression and incremental reforms
The history of Afrikan people in the United States has been a struggle against systems of oppression, interspersed with incremental reforms, designed to temper resistance and pacify demands for justice. The 246 years of Chattel Slavery were followed by the reforms of Reconstruction, a period where America had a chance to become a multi-racial democracy. The Confederate Slavocracy lost the Civil War, but they won the aftermath, beginning with the Compromise of 1877. A retooled form of oppression began to take hold, resulting in 88 years of American Apartheid (Jim Crow segregation). The mass movement for civil and voting rights forced the most blatant aspects of American Apartheid to collapse.
With the reforms of Civil Rights, the United States entered a period referred by some historians as the Second Reconstruction. White resistance to progress began almost immediately and often insidiously. The expansion of the Welfare State had a devastating impact on the Black family. Deindustrialization led to massive Black male urban unemployment. The Nixon Administration declared a War on Drugs, which became a Drug War on Black America. The Reagan Administration expanded that war, and coupled with the crime bill of President Clinton, resulted in the mass- incarceration of Afrikan Americans, which Michelle Alexander called the New Jim Crow. A cadre of significant Black leadership was killed and incarcerated, as the US government declared war on the Black Power/Liberation Movement. Symbols of progress replaced substance. After the two terms of America’s first Black president, Barack Obama, a white backlash struck in the form of the race-baiting Donald Trump.
The Absence of Tension versus the Presence of Justice
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” – Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.
The American oligarchy has historically proven that they will do anything to maintain their power and wealth. Numerous corporate entities have pledged over $1.6 billion to various Black organizations. We’ve seen streets painted with Black Lives Matter, Confederate statues removed, and Democrat pols draped in kente cloth, kneeling for justice. There should be no more kneeling because a knee killed George Floyd, but the point here is, the powers that be are laying the symbolism on thick. Most power structure elements appear to want a return to the absence of tension, but others are pushing for a massive, racially-oriented, fascist civil conflict. The presence of justice requires organizing for power. That could happen if the current activists stay the course like our ancestors did, eventually leading to a “Juneteenth” that makes justice permanent.
(Note: For the 23rd consecutive year the House of Africa and its Juneteenth Committee will be hosting a Juneteenth Celebration, within the context of Governor Cooper’s “Phase 2 COVID-19 rules,” on June 19, 20, and 21, at 1215 Thomas Ave, in Charlotte. Call: 704- 376-6160 for details.) We’ll see.
For more from the author, follow his blog Makheru Speaks.