John McWhorter : Why Juneteenth's Not My ThingRoundup: Talking About History
I am John Hamilton McWhorter, the fifth. The first John Hamilton McWhorter was a slave. This Thursday is Juneteenth, when I might be inclined to celebrate the emancipation of John Hamilton McWhorter, the first.
Or not. Truth to tell, I have never quite gotten the hang of Juneteenth.
I suppose I should. What could be wrong, after all, with celebrating slaves in America being freed? Technically, Juneteenth arose to mark the day slaves in Texas were freed, but over the years it has been embraced nationwide as a celebration of emancipation.
But at the end of the day, I just can't wrap my head around celebrating the fact that someone else freed my ancestors. It puts too much focus on a time when we were so starkly in the down position. Juneteenth seems to be about what someone else did.
Whites had been crucial to keeping the Abolitionist movement going. Certainly blacks worked alongside them: The career of Frederick Douglass is Exhibit A. And there were more slave revolts than we are often aware of.
However, we cannot say that blacks in America made their freedom happen. Freedom happened partly as the result of whites making other whites see the error of their ways. And Abraham Lincoln's commitment was to preserving the Union as a political arrangement, which inherently included abolishing slavery. And even then, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves, just slaves in the Confederacy, over which Lincoln had no jurisdiction.
So, yes, blacks played a part—but if for some bizarre reason blacks had not participated in the Abolitionist movement and had never revolted, it is thoroughly plausible that emancipation would have happened anyway.
Think about it: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was something that happened because we made it happen. As we have recently revisited in the wake of Hillary Clinton's famous comment, Lyndon B. Johnson was the one who pushed it through Congress. However, he wouldn't have done what he did absent the ferocious tenacity of Dr. King, his black comrades and the countless black people who gave their time, energy and sometimes their lives to battling Jim Crow to its knees and changing the nation's mind on bigotry.
Juneteenth has also always left me a little cold because of what happened after slaves were freed....
comments powered by Disqus
- Rubio Surges Into Second In New Hampshire
- Branstad Says Cruz Ran ‘Unethical’ Campaign
- Christie Highlights Santorum’s Endorsement of Rubio
- Portman Comes Out Against Trade Deal
- Megyn Kelly Gets a Book Deal
- A Big List of the Bad Things Clinton Has Done
- An Unambiguous Sign Sanders Won Last Night’s Debate
- Still Friends at the End
- Quote of the Day
- Trump Still Leads as Clinton Slips
- Clinton Can’t Shake Image as Wall Street’s Friend
- Maddow Doesn’t See Sanders Winning
- Why Does the Media Still Shield Chelsea Clinton?
- Bush Jokes His Mother May Have Abused Him
- Rubio Closes the Gap in New Hampshire
- Humans Hard-Wired to Teach, Anthropologist Says
- Parents outraged after students shown ‘white guilt’ cartoon for Black History Month
- Maryland is once again considering retiring its state song
- One of the last remaining Nazis goes on trial in Germany
- Inside story finally told of the young US diplomat who cracked the case of the murder of 4 nuns in El Salvador in 1980
- A historian’s advice to students thinking of getting a PhD in a tough economic climate
- German historian Heinz Richter cleared of charges
- English professor uses literature to help cure historical amnesia
- WSJ features an article by a conservative calling for the abolition of Black History Month
- Mary Beard, herself a bestselling author, wonders why more women historians aren't