Phillips & Peters applauds the Commonwealth of Virginia in its efforts to recognize June 19th as a celebration of Juneteenth. It is exciting to see Virginia leading in recognition of this day. It is our prayer that in looking back and understanding what our history has been, that our country can unite and move forward to a day when Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream is a reality in all of our hearts.
It has only been 57 years since Dr. King told this country about his dream at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Shortly after this momentous occasion, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law.
One might assume that the existence of the law is the end of the process. That’s not necessarily true. Unfortunately, the law – regardless of the neutrality of words that are written – does not necessarily protect the people that it purports to protect. Let’s look at history.
In 1776, the Declaration of Independence expressed truths that were described as “self-evident” – “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Shortly thereafter, the Constitution of the United States failed to protect all men living in this country and counted men who were not taxed and not free as only 3/5ths of a man.
87 years later, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863. Yet it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when slavery truly ended in the United States. (This is why there is a cause for celebration with Juneteenth.)
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was passed in 1868. The 14th Amendment states, in part, that no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Perhaps, if at the beginning, this Amendment was upheld in the way it was intended we might be in a different place today.
The Civil Rights Act was not passed until a little less than 100 years later. For 100 years following the enactment of the 14th Amendment, there was further racism perpetuated and tolerated in this country leading to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950/60s and ultimately to the Civil Rights Act.
The above is obviously a very brief overview. Its simplicity should not be viewed as an attempt to oversimplify the issue. Instead, it is offered to invite others to consider, thoughtfully examine, and learn about what can be changed about our hearts, thoughts, speech, and our systems – and a challenge that after only 56 years since the Civil Rights Act that there is still work to be done. Happy Juneteenth!