Say It Louder Juneteenth is just the beginning of what Black people are owed
Daina Ramey Berry is a professor of history and chairperson of the history department at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the co-author of A Black Women's History of the United States.
Two centuries ago, a woman named Esther claimed her freedom. The enslaved woman filed a suit against her enslaver, Bernard H. Buckner, on behalf of herself and her two children in federal court. In 1827, Buckner had intended to move the family to his new home in the District of Columbia, but had neglected to heed a local law requiring him to relocate them within a year of establishing residency. It was a technicality, part of a law designed to stop the importation of enslaved people into the capital. But Esther knew the law, and kept track of each of the 365 days that needed to pass before her bondage would be invalidated. Esther acted swiftly and audaciously. She sued.
Her representation was a Maryland lawyer with a famous name and a fraught history: Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Key owned people himself, and was a prominent proponent of sending emancipated Black people back to Africa. But there in the courtroom, he was committed to Esther’s defense. He instructed the members of the jury to read the letter of the law. They granted Esther’s petition, and she and her two children were immediately set free.
Esther’s story sounds remarkable, but in the larger story of slavery in the Americas, it was not an anomaly. In fact, over multiple centuries, in every period of history, enslaved people received, took, filed, fled, reclaimed, and sued for their freedom. They led strikes and revolts in the fields, defied the enslavers in song and worship, and escaped to build their own settlements. They continually rejected their legal status and fought for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But today, when Americans think about freedom, we often focus on the moments when it was granted or guaranteed by the government: moments such as the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. Now Juneteenth—the holiday commemorating the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were informed of the end of the Civil War and the beginning of their tentative freedom—has become a symbol for this granting of freedom to Black people by the United States. But the truth is that Juneteenth is a celebration of just one way that Black people either created freedom or found it, often on their own terms. What we acknowledge this Juneteenth must be about more than what was given. It must be about what had already been claimed.
Read the story on The Atlantic
More of This The civil rights lawyer who teaches young people how to survive police encounters
For millions of Americans, the murder of George Floyd by former police office Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis last year sparked a turning point in collective consciousness. Finally, it seemed, the nation was beginning to understand the pandemic of police violence. And when a jury of his peers recently convicted Chauvin—whose facial expression turned from indifferent to ill–on three counts of murder, mainstream media were quick to tout what they called a shift in U.S. policing and media coverage following the verdict.
Yet, one rare guilty verdict amidst a sea of police misconduct doesn’t make the criminal legal system just to the families who’ve lost loved ones to police violence before or since the police lynching of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others.
Enter Attorney Taalib Saber: The Pan-African, social justice-focused and documentary filmmaking civil rights attorney knew he wanted to be a lawyer, even as a kid. What he didn’t know at the time was that the eventual growth of his political and social consciousness would take him across the world, from the law offices in the Washington D.C. area to Ghana, Uganda and other communities across the African Diaspora.
Read the story on The Black WallStreet
Speaking Of… My students are not afraid of critical race theory
Vincent Jungkunz is an associate professor of political science at Ohio University.
In a short story called “The Space Traders,” by civil rights lawyer and scholar Derrick Bell, visitors from outer space appear and offer to solve the climate crisis, eliminate the national debt and provide an energy source that would end the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. In return, these space traders demand one thing: all Black people living in the United States.
Ultimately, the American public takes a vote, and it’s no nail-biter — 70 percent vote in favor of trading their fellow citizens.
Bell’s story, which I teach in a course on critical race theory, is partly meant to point out the ways in which throughout history, this White-majority country has traded the rights of Black people to gain a variety of socioeconomic benefits. In class, we discuss the many examples of such trades — slavery, the convict-leasing system, sharecropping, Jim Crow, redlining — and the ways these trades perpetuate racism today.
We also do something even more profound: We consider Bell’s hypothetical trade more directly. I ask, if such an alien force were to appear now, would the American public vote in favor of trading all Black people into slavery for the benefits offered in the story?
My classes are typically about 90 percent White and 10 percent students of color — the latter of whom are mostly Black students. The first time I conducted this lesson, I anticipated that students would say the country would reject this racist and genocidal trade. I was wrong. Not only did they say that the United States would accept the trade, but they did so by a clear majority, White and Black alike. Every year since I introduced this lesson, that majority has grown to the point where, a couple of years ago, every student in the classroom said Americans would send Black people into slavery, except for one who voted no — a Black student.
Read the story on Washington Post
More of This She could be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court
The Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Monday to the influential federal appeals court in Washington, elevating a trial court judge who is considered a contender for a potential opening on the Supreme Court.
Three Republicans joined Democrats in approving Jackson’s nomination in a 53-to-44 vote.
Jackson, 50, was nominated in March as part of Biden’s first slate of judicial picks from diverse personal and professional backgrounds. She fills the vacancy left on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who served on the bench for 24 years.
A former law clerk to Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Jackson is often mentioned as someone who could fulfill President Biden’s pledge to put the first Black woman on the high court.
Ahead of Monday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted that women, especially women of color, have long been underrepresented on the federal bench and said Democrats are “working quickly to close the gap.” He called Jackson an “outstanding, trailblazing nominee” with “all the qualities of a model jurist.”
Read the story on Washington Post
ChangeLawyers Scholarship Now Open
Deadline: July 9
Apply here >
June 30 at 12 Noon PST
Register here >
July 19 at 12 Noon PST. Register >