Over 150 years ago, on what is now called Juneteenth, we celebrate the arrival of Major General Gordon Granger and his soldiers at Galveston, Texas, who finally brought news that the Civil War was over and enslaved Black people were free. Their freedom came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.
While white people were the messengers of this news, the Civil War could not have been won without the enduring advocacy of Black people. Thousands of Black people paved the way to freeing enslaved people, through leading the abolitionist movement. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, born a free Black woman in Baltimore, wrote poetry detailing the horrors of slavery and dreams for the advancement of Black people. Black people fought in the Civil War. 16 of those Black soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their sacrifices.
Black people were an integral part of getting enslaved Black people to the North. Like Harriet Tubman, Josiah Henson, and Henry Highland Garnet were all born in Maryland into slavery and died free. Maryland's famous Frederick Douglass not only freed himself by escaping slavery, but also convinced Lincoln to support emancipation, created and owned his own newspaper, and encouraged many Black people to fight in the war as a means of getting citizenship. In short, Black people did that sh*t.
In 1866, the first Juneteenth was celebrated with music, food, dance, and joy. However, Black people's new freedom from slavery was met with an enormous wave of domestic white terrorism, manifesting in lynchings, the Jim Crow era, and a campaign to ensure Black people were legally second-class people. While white slave owners received monetary reparations for no longer being allowed to hold human beings as "property," Black people had to form a new life with nothing.
“Slavery is dead, but the spirit which animated it still lives.” – Frances Harper
Despite all of this, Black people continued to celebrate their new freedom and fight for Black Liberation. Later, when they fled the south through the "Great Migration," Black people created towns and communities that supported each other and generated Black wealth for Black people. A new wave of Black culture was born that brought R&B, Jazz, Rock, Blues, countless dances, and so much more.
Fast forward to 2019 and a new generation is freeing Black people. The National Bail Out Collective, a formation of Black organizers committed to building a community-based movement to end pretrial detention and mass incarceration, are Black leaders fighting against a white supremacist system that maintains and supports white people, many of whom built their fortunes and companies on exploiting Black and Brown labor. Through deliberate policies over centuries, the United States has tried to keep Black and Brown people impoverished, which the cash bail system plays a part in. The cash bail system and pretrial detention are part of a widespread system of wealth-based incarceration, leaving people who can't afford bail, stuck in jail awaiting trial, sometimes for months or years. Meanwhile, wealthy people, disproportionately white people, accused of the same crime can buy their freedom. Even to this day, as we celebrate Juneteenth, we are reminded of the 13th Constitutional Amendment of the United States, which bans slavery except as a punishment to crime. This dangerous loophole has allowed America's racist system of mass incarceration to flourish.
Several powerful local groups -- Out for Justice, Life After Release, and the Maryland Justice Project -- participated in the National Black Mama's Bail Out this March. Nicole Hanson Mundell, Samantha Masters, Qiana Johnson, Chantel Pinchem, Monica Cooper, Nee Nee Taylor, Donna Brown and a team of volunteers worked diligently to not only free Black (cis and trans) women on Mother's Day but to also support them for at least three months after their release with mentorships, hair care, rides, and monetary support. They freed over 30 Black women in Maryland, from Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County and Baltimore City jails, who were sitting in cages ripped from their families and communities over bail bonds -- some just $100.
Similar to the celebrations of our ancestors, these Black people and their allies celebrated the women's freedom.
On May 12 they held a Mother's Day Brunch at the GreenMount West Community Center. The rainy day was filled with music, food, dance, and joy. The mothers received gifts and Mother's Day cards. Raheem Devaughn leant his money and voice to the effort, serenading the women with songs. Lady Brion shared her fiery poetry about Black mothers' love. And of course, we showed how we get down on the dance floor.
From slavery to mass incarceration, Black people and allies are still fighting against unjust systems meant to dehumanize and keep Black people down. Samantha Masters reminded me: "We are the descendants of the people who survived." Black people are survivors who will keep fighting, creating, and determining what freedom and liberation mean for Black people. We have a long history of liberating ourselves, which needs to be supported by powerful leaders and groups like the ACLU. Allies need to follow the lead of Black people working on the front lines of Black liberation.
“We love black mamas. None of us are the sum of the worst things that we have been accused of doing. We are all a spectrum of wonderful things and not so wonderful things, and people get to live the fullness of their humanity without being judged.” - Samantha Master from the National Bail Out Collective and #FreeBlackMamasDMV told WAMU-88.5 Radio