While today’s annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States has been celebrated since the late 1800s, there is added significance this year, local black leaders said.
They said black residents have celebrated Juneteenth for 155 years, but after the recent nationwide protests against police brutality following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, there is more energy this year surrounding the holiday.
“It’s appalling that it took the killing of George Floyd to bring this world together,” said William Ford, president of the Middletown Area NAACP. “They’re killing African-Americans at a drop of a dime and for no reason. It’s unimaginable for most people.”
But on Juneteenth 2020, Ford said he’s “optimistic that we can move forward in the future.”
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Rodney Coates, professor of global and intercultural studies at Miami University, isn’t so sure. While black residents have made strides toward being treated as equals, he said there is still a disparity among races when it comes to economics, educational opportunities and the likelihood of imprisonment.
“What does freedom mean?” he asked. “We’re still waiting for the reality of freedom.”
The protests that have continued since Floyd died last month while in police custody in Minneapolis have led to changes in police departments and created what some have called “uncomfortable conversations” about race.
There have been numerous protests in Hamilton, Middletown, Fairfield, West Chester Twp. and Oxford, and the West Chester Liberty Chamber recently held a discussion with West Chester police Chief Joel Herzog that was praised for its open dialogue.
The Middletown NAACP is holding a rally called Middletown United for Change 2020 at 10 a.m. Saturday that begins at the Bus Depot downtown and ends at the City Building.
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Dora Bronston, an officer in the local NAACP for 20 years and secretary for the state NAACP, said this year “will be hard to forget” considering all the advancements in police reforms that followed the protests attended by a large percentage of white residents.
“A big reason to celebrate,” Bronston said. “Blacks and whites are together in unity and demanding police reform. Whites have joined in and voiced their anger. All the people are complaining, not just minorities year after year, decade after decade.”
Some of that is because of videos that surfaced showing police violence , including the filming of Floyd, she said.
“We can’t turn a blind eye because it’s right in front of us,” she said. “Everyone has their eyes open. All of this is so visible. People around the world are protesting. All this negativity and all these beatings and deaths are pulling us all together. There is a major decrease in the divide in the country. We are all pulling together.”
Celeste Didlick-Davis, vice-president of the Middletown NAACP, said black history needs to be part of the American history curriculum. Juneteenth needs to be taught the same way as July 4th, she said.
“We kind of overlook that part,” she said of black history. “We learn about the white culture because of who’s teaching that.”
Juneteenth received its name by combining June and 19.
On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered, Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved black people of their freedom and the Civil War had ended. Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than 2 1/2 years earlier on Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln.
Coates said slaves were “pawns” in the political struggle and after 400 years, there was “no justice” for slaves.