“Liminal” is defined as the space between. It is the no-longer before, and the not-yet other. It is the space where we find ourselves caught between the light of Juneteenth and the shadow of July 4th. We are caught in the space between. No longer enslaved on plantations, but not yet with a freedom fully realized. It’s an imaginative space; an emergent space; and a space for reflection.
It is in this space that I am reminded of the Statue of Liberty, and the broken chains at her feet. I first learned about the chains in 2017, at a training in Chicago led by Dr. Joy DeGruy. She told the story of how the chains were part of the original vision of the statue, how American financiers insisted that the chains be removed, and how the sculptor still managed to sneak the chains in under Lady Liberty’s garments, lying broken at her feet. She told the story how the National Park Services didn’t talk about the chains unless someone happened to ask. The chains were not part of the Park Services’ narrative about the Statue. In the Statue’s 135-year history, information about the chains have only officially been included in the park service’s literature and website for about the past six years.
Yasmin Sabina Khan goes even deeper in her work, “Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty.” Conceived in 1865 by Édouard de Laboulaye, sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi over the course of approximately 20 years, the Statue of Liberty was unveiled at New York’s Ellis Island as “Liberty Enlightening the World” in October of 1886. At the base of the Statue, out of view from anyone looking from ground level, lie the broken chains of slavery. Visible only from helicopter or drone, the chains weren’t spoken of. Laboulaye was an ardent abolitionist. With the end of the US Civil War in 1865, Laboulaye imagined a gift that would embody the significance of the liberation of those who were enslaved. Bartholdi’s original model placed the torch of liberty in one hand, and broken chains in the other. The Statue of Liberty’s entire visual and artistic vocabulary was meant to both celebrate and honor the freedom of those enslaved in America. But financiers balked at the idea of chains placed anywhere on the Statue, and after profuse opposition by Bartholdi, the chains were removed, replaced by a tablet emblazoned with the Roman numerals for July 4, 1776. Since they aren’t easily visible, and since there was no concerted public effort to connect the statue with the narrative of the abolition of chattel slavery, the memory of it’s connections faded. And for the past 135 years, barely anyone remembered the chains.
For Black people within this liminal march of history, the Statue has long sat as a symbol of hypocrisy—celebrating a freedom that became connected to a honoring of ideals that have yet to be realized. There’s much to unpack about our historical reactions to the unveiling of the Statue, but there’s also much to be said about the loss of memory. The obscuring and loss of communal memory around the presence, history, and meaning of the chains at the feet of the Statue of Liberty is important because it reminds us that memory is important. And not only is memory important, memory is crucial in this liminal space between freedom and freedom. Memory is what helps us imagine. Memory is what helps us create. It’s something we can use to construct and define a new world, a new freedom, a new way of being. We must tap into it.
In his book, “Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance” Ngugi wa Thiong’o writes, “creative imagination is one of the greatest of re-membering practices…” and that “memory is the link between the past and the present, between space and time, and it is the base of our dreams.” Harnessing memory is our work. These broken chains at our feet, the light of Juneteenth, the long shadow of July 4th—this liminal space—all of it is here to remind us that we have worlds to build. We have a freedom to define—to make clear and meaningful. It is within this creative tension where we have the possibility to gain a clear-eyed view of what a full realization of freedom could look like, both collectively as a community and a country, and particularly in the living out of our individual lives and individual situations. But understand, there can be no clear expression of freedom without integrating communal memory into the foundation of work.
If memory is the base of our dreams, what are our dreams of freedom? What if we could transform freedom in the same ways that we’ve always transformed culture? In this liminal space of history, we’ve seen Black creativity, Black genius, Black art, and Black joy shift and drive culture (and economies) around the world. Have we fired that same ingenuity in our definitions of freedom? What would the world look like, if we defined and constructed freedom based on our criteria, our imaginations, our memory? It might look something like a society built on the idea of thriving rather than destruction. It might look something like a society built around dignity—of humans, animals, and the earth. It might look something like systems built to nourish and sustain life rather than profit. Freedom could look like so many different visions of more and better. The dreaming is up to us.
We have work to do. We have worlds to build. We have a freedom to create. And as we go about protesting and advocating for our lives, here in this liminal space between freedom that was and freedom that might yet be, may we remember that the work we have to do, the worlds we are building, and the freedom we are creating, cannot reach their fullest expression without our communal memory.
Let us remember the chains broken at our feet, so that we may creatively continue in our generation’s leg of the journey toward the light of freedom fully realized.
Imagine being a slave, and on this particular day, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger forced your master to set you free immediately! You and your master may have heard about the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, but it didn’t free you.
Gaining physical freedom is one thing. But how did formerly enslaved people gain emotional freedom while avoiding the heavy chains of emotional slavery due to the incredible injustice of their past and present reality? What possible relationship could or would they have with their former master?
What about you? As many are focused on celebrating Juneteenth and freedom, are you still in emotional chains due to injustice? How do you go on functioning while injustice continues? Black people are still being shot. Churches and schools are targets for mass murders.
Maybe you’re not in physical chains, but are you emotionally enslaved?
Want your freedom? When thinking of slavery, Grandma Shuler, my dad’s mom, always comes to mind. She was born in 1879 in South Carolina where an unofficial slavery still existed! This eighty-five-year-old’s smile and lack of bitterness profoundly impacted me when I was ten years old.
I considered becoming a Black Panther because the Ku Klux Klan ran from them. It was difficult for Blacks to be anything other than sharecroppers (a new kind of slavery) immediately after slavery was abolished. Grandma and Grandpa and their adult children lived on the same land where their parents had been enslaved. Their house’s foundation was a slave shack with an outhouse. This was 1964!
My dad has some of Grandma’s genes. He and many Black men like him had a quiet dignity no matter how badly they were treated in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. They didn’t fight back or curse at their oppressors. Injustice couldn’t break their spirits.
But how do you reconcile Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the recent shootings at the school in Uvalde, TX, and the grocery store in Buffalo, NY?
Initially, I felt that part of me died when I heard about the struggle and murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Certainly, I wasn’t free emotionally. Ironically, God spoke to me through a radio interview with two White humbled co-hosts who had done their homework. They got me talking about these murders. Surprisingly, it was therapeutic. I didn’t realize I needed to talk about it instead of keeping it inside. Many Black men don’t process it externally, which is slowly killing them.
How should we handle injustice when peaceful efforts require more discipline than giving in to our emotions? History shows us there is power in “radical love and forgiveness.” When Dylann Roof murdered nine members of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., during a prayer meeting in June 2015, many surviving friends and family shocked the nation when they chose to forgive. Emmanuel AME is one of the oldest Black congregations in the South and has a long history of anti-slavery activism, civil rights protests, and ongoing political engagement. Even the late pastor Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims shot that day, was a state senator who pushed for police to wear body cameras. So why forgive? Chris Singleton, who lost his mother in the attack, told USA Today, “After seeing what happened and the reason why it happened, and after seeing how people could forgive, I truly hope that people will see that it wasn’t just us saying words,” Singleton says. “I know, for a fact, that it was something greater than us, using us to bring our city together.”
When we don’t forgive, we put ourselves in emotional slavery. Our unforgiveness subconsciously permeates every relationship – and I’ve found that relationships are the key to healing racial divides. A freedom that can never be stolen is not about how people treat me. It’s all about how I choose to respond to it. In my latest book, Life-Changing, Cross-Cultural Friendships, which I co-wrote with Gary Chapman, author The 5 Love Languages, we talk in depth about our journey of an authentic friendship through some of the most racially divisive times in history and provide a roadmap for others to do the same.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to
forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is
some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this,
we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
My grandma couldn’t force White people or anyone else to give her justice, equality, or simply human courtesy, yet she continued to smile. Grandma was not weak. When she spoke, people moved. This barely five-foot-tall woman lived with her six-foot two-inch husband, raised seven children, and could still shoot her rifle with accuracy well into her eighties. She couldn’t go to the hospital to give birth. She and Grandpa lived off the land to survive and fed their children without a formal education. Imagine all that she saw, being born in 1879 and living until 1971. Her freedom was not dependent on White people giving her their version of justice. She treated all people with respect. She said, “As I’m treating others with respect, even some mean White people, I’m loving God and respecting myself.”
And, of course, Grandma smiled.
About the. Author
Clarence Shuler is the President/CEO of BLR: Building Lasting Relationships. He’s authored ten books. He and Dr. Gary Chapman speak together at The 5 Love Languages, Date Night, and Life-Changing Cross-Cultural Friendship events. For more information, visit www.clarenceshuler.com.
Juneteenth, observed June 19 each year, has a long history of commemoration among African Americans in the United States. It has been observed by Black people in Galveston, Texas and the immediate surrounding area for generations. But within the past few years, Juneteenth has become a national Black holiday. This year, I have seen advertisements for Juneteenth merchandise, Juneteenth celebrations, and Juneteenth marketing from major corporations and institutions. Why is this small commemoration that was lost from mainstream history now becoming such a big deal in the media? I offer a few observations that I believe are making Juneteenth the new national Black summer holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates the day when former slaves in Galveston received the news that they had been freed after the U.S. Civil War on June 19, 1865. President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in rebelling states under Confederate control two years prior, in 1863. The Union Army won the Civil War, making that action permanent, and Congress officially freed all slaves through the thirteenth amendment in January of 1865. But because Texas was the westernmost former Confederate territory and Galveston an island in the far south of the state, it took a long time to bring the news to the Union Army from the battlefields in the southeastern United States of America. The soldiers shared the news that the over 250,000 formerly-enslaved Africans in the state of Texas were free on Juneteenth. As a result, to the Black community starting in Texas and spreading over the decades, Juneteenth became a second Independence Day for African Americans–the day that the last slaves received freedom. But why is Juneteenth going viral now when it wasn’t even on most Americans’ radar a decade ago?
Black Pride Is Making A Resurgence
In the post-Obama era, it became clear that a backlash of White supremacy would continue to expose racism at the individual and systemic levels across the nation. While literal chants of White power became more prevalent in cities across the United States, African Americans who had in many cases taken a position of assimilation were faced with a choice to feel uncomfortable and complicit with the societal racism around them or respond with messages and attitudes of Black empowerment and self-determination.
This was, of course, not a new choice or a new phenomenon. There was a similar dynamic of racial tension after WWI that gave birth to the Red Summer of 1919, the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, and the resurgence of the KKK codified in the film Birth of A Nation. In response, the Harlem Renaissance provided a focus of Black empowerment and self-determination in the midst of the Great Migration. This happened again during the Black power movement after the hope of the Civil Rights era ended in Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X’s assassinations, as White Americans pushed back against integration around the nation. In response, African Americans embraced Black power, which fueled reinvestment in Black communities, the creation of Black political parties, and the beginning of Black theologies. In our current historical moment, the Black disengagement from White systems has looked like reinvestment in HBCUs, the proliferation of Black businesses, and Black artists creating Afro-centric art and entertainment. It has become meaningful to be “Black Black” again, and to embrace African American identity in every layer of culture. Juneteenth has become a national way to celebrate Black Identity at the moment when the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming manageable and society is opening back up.
Black Lives Matter Is Mainstream
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the global pandemic that gave it context, Americans were forced to pay attention to the ongoing racism and trauma that Black people face on a daily basis. The Black Lives Matter movement, which began in 2015 after the killing of Michael Brown by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, has reached mainstream status in a remarkably short time as a result of mass organizing, social media, and the focus created by the pandemic. This was now most evident in the outcry of support for Black Lives Matter in mainstream sports, business, and government during the summer of 2020 after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor–which served as major catalysts for hundreds of non-violent protests on behalf of Black lives globally. People of every background across racial lines came together to protest the unjust treatment of Black Americans. As major corporations and politicians became aware of the demographic and economic trends supporting Black Lives Matter and more and more stories of black people losing their lives at the hands of police and vigilantes came to light, a flurry of companies and politicians rushed to voice their support in an election year where police brutality and racism became major topics of conversation.
That political and socioeconomic force has continued in the sometimes unbelievable turnarounds of institutions that now publicly voice support against racism and for Black Americans. With the demographic winds in favor of supporting Black lives and billions of dollars to be made in voicing support, Juneteenth has provided another opportunity for institutions to be caught on the right side of history and the economy.
Black Institutions Are Promoting It
Juneteenth has become a reason for celebration and remembrance for Black institutions around the country, most notably Black churches. Black churches and denominations who have lived under the specter of White evangelicalism have begun to disentangle themselves from White Christianity in the last few years Because of the political and cultural loyalty to racism many White evangelical personalities and institutions have shown, reclaiming Blackness while being Christian has become more pronounced. Black Churches are hosting Juneteenth panels, celebrations, festivals, and even economic empowerment events. Friendship West Baptist Church outside of Dallas has facilitated weeks of events remembering the Tulsa Massacre and now celebrating Juneteenth. Black churches are finding creative ways to come together virtually, outside, in hybrid ways, or returning to in-person worship after the pandemic. Black companies, schools, and organizations are finding key events to gather and build engagement and morale as recovery from the pandemic continues. Juneteenth has provided the perfect summer outlet for Black institutions to promote events and gatherings affirming their African American heritage.
Black institutions now empowered by social media are still the best at convening Black people across the country. Juneteenth, which celebrates the freedom of all Black people from slavery, has become an opportunity to celebrate the freedom of all Black people to enjoy ourselves and determine our direction after the pandemic.
Juneteenth may not have been on the minds of most Americans a decade ago, but it is in the mainstream media and the minds of the masses today. The transformation from commemoration and celebration for formerly enslaved Africans to a national holiday for Black folks has been more than a century in the making. The recent interest has been driven by cultural, economic, political, and social factors; but there is a spiritual reformation happening in the midst. Juneteenth has provided an opportunity for Black people to celebrate intentional Blackness in their faith expressions. And as a Black man in America, I am glad more people are saying out loud “I’m Black, free, and proud.”
June 19 marks Juneteenth, a celebration of the de facto end of slavery in the United States.
For hundreds of thousands of African-Americans stuck in pretrial detention – accused but not convicted of a crime, and unable to leave because of bail – that promise remains unfulfilled. And coming immediately before Father’s Day, it’s also a reminder of the loss associated with the forced separation of families.
On a very personal level, I know how this separation feels. Every Father’s Day since 2011, I’ve been reminded of the unexpected death of my dad at the age of 48. But also on a professional level, as a criminologist who has been researching mass incarceration for the past decade, I understand the disproportionate impact it’s had on African-Americans, destabilizing black families in the process.
Blacks behind bars
Juneteenth is a celebration of African-Americans’ triumph over slavery and access to freedom in the U.S., which occurred in Galveston, Texas, in June of 1865, over two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
While Juneteenth is a momentous day in U.S. history, it is important to appreciate that the civil rights and liberties promised to African-Americans have yet to be fully realized. As legal scholar Michelle Alexander forcefully explains, this is a consequence of Jim Crow laws and the proliferation of incarceration that began in the 1970s, including the increase of people placed in pretrial detention and other criminal justice policies.
In local jails alone, over 300,000 people are awaiting trial for property, drug or public order crimes. And again, these disproportionately black defendants are confined and separated from their families, friends and jobs simply because they lack the means to post cash bail – the only reason they can’t get out.
Toll on families
It should be no surprise, then, that 1 in 9 black children now has a parent behind bars, compared with the national rate of 1 in 28.
The aim of the project is to provide both financial and legal support for defendants lacking resources to independently secure their pretrial release, with the goal of the campaign being the release of jailed fathers so that they could be with their kids for the holiday.
On one hand, the multiplication of these organizations is encouraging and reason for optimism. On the other, their growth is another reminder that many of the freedoms celebrated on Juneteenth remain unrealized.
Children suffer. Parents struggle. Relationships deteriorate. And as a result, so too do so many African-American communities. Lost wages matter to families, but they also matter to communities. The lower tax base that results makes it more difficult for struggling public institutions, like schools, to progress. And with such a large share of individuals removed from some communities due to incarceration, and branded as felons upon their release, these communities lose potential voters and the political capital they carry. They are too often disenfranchised and stripped of their full power and potential.
Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of black Americans and the long, hard road they were forced to traverse to gain that freedom. But as criminologists like me have maintained time and again, the U.S. criminal justice system remains biased, albeit implicitly, against them.
Today Twitter, Facebook, Instagram; even parks and some backyards are overflowing with the celebration of “Juneteenth.”
What is it, exactly?
Juneteenth Celebration in Texas, June 19, 1900 (Photo Credit: Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration that commemorates the actual ending of slavery in the United States. Although President Lincoln signed The Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it was not until June 19, 1865 that the Union soldiers, led by General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, TX, with news that the war ended and the enslaved were free at last!
The Emancipation Proclamation had very little impact on Texas in 1863 due to the minimal number of Union troops in that area to enforce the new Executive Order. Of course some questioned President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states, but for whatever reason conditions in Texas remained the same well beyond what was statutory. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and with the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces finally had enough strength to overcome the resistance.
Today, Juneteenth is experiencing an extreme growth rate within communities and organizations around the country. The Smithsonian, the Henry Ford Museum, and a few other organizations have begun sponsoring Juneteenth –centered activities. It currently celebrates African American freedom and achievement, encourages continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. Although the historic day is celebrated mostly in Texas, it is now taking on a more national and even more global perspective.
If you didn’t know your history before, now you know!