Juneteenth is recognized as the official day when chattel slavery ended in the rebelling south. Most look to the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863 as the day Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, but many states in the South ignored the order. It took some two-and-a half years, on June 19, 1865, for Union soldiers to go into Texas and force the slave owners to put down their chains. That day has since been recognized as Juneteenth.
It is important to understand how important slavery was to the South’s economy. Our country’s wealthiest men built their fortunes on the backs of Black people. Black bodies were plundered for America’s wealth. This is a regrettable but undeniable fact of our country’s past. It took the bloodiest war in American history to end the system of plunder, and since then many other systems have emerged to take its place. Sharecropping, Jim Crow, redlining, and mass incarceration all have taken turns robbing African Americans of not only their liberty, but of their wealth.
The ramifications of this history are obvious today. For every dollar a white family has, a black family has just six cents. This incredulous disparity adversely affects African American physical and mental health, education, and safety.
In order to complete the liberation of African Americans, Black people must also be economically liberated. Economic liberation takes the form of financial literacy. It takes the form in the ability to get a loan from the bank. It takes the form of not only living in your city, but also owning and controlling the land in your neighborhood.
Juneteenth is the day the most oppressive form of black plunder was destroyed. It was African Americans’ first step towards economic liberation. This day must be remembered not only to uplift our ancestors, but also to recognize our current struggle and uplift ourselves.
Juneteenth’s celebration takes the form in recognizing those who are working to build Black wealth within our communities, giving these voices a platform and spreading the information amongst our people. It is important that we understand our past and our present to work build a future of our own. In order to build that future, we must work together.
This year, Bank Black USA is using Juneteenth as a platform to promote their campaign to build black wealth. The organization is holding grassroots events in at least 15 cities across the country, spanning from New York City to Anchorage, Alaska. Each city is tailoring its Juneteenth celebration to the specific needs of its community. For example, in Minneapolis, there is no black owned bank. So in order to fill that need, community activists are creating a credit union. In the Baltimore/D.C. area, a group spearheaded by mothers is planning a day of family financial access and education. Their event will be highlighted by a workshop opening up bank accounts for families and children.
In Detroit, City Council has recently passed a resolution declaring Juneteenth a celebration of Black economic liberation. The City of Detroit will be cohosting a symposium that will provide a platform for community groups that are working to build wealth spread their information. Included in the event is the Osborn Business Association, a neighborhood business association that teaches entrepreneurship, and Operation Hope, an organization that teaches financial literacy and tax education. Also, Council Member Janeé Ayers will speak about her Returning Citizens Taskforce, which provides services for citizens returning from incarceration.
OneUnited, the largest black bank in the country, will be hosting a discussion between their President and COO Teri Williams, Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin and President of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, and Melina Abdullah, founding member of Black Lives Matter, to discuss how economic and social justice are intertwined. This event will be livestreamed on Facebook Live and will take place in Los Angeles on June 17th at 6 PM (9 PM Eastern Time).
Bank Black USA looks to continue using Juneteenth to further its mission of building Black wealth in future years. By reaching into the past, it not only preserves our history, but provides a natural platform to address the economic state of Black America. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, when our ancestors took the first step of our walk towards equality. Bank Black USA is proud to continue that journey as we commemorate the memory of Juneteenth.