C.W. DAWSON: Why everyone needs to celebrate Emancipation Day

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The Rev. C.W. Dawson Jr. was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at MU. He teaches at Columbia College and Moberly Area Community College and writes for the Missourian.

Throughout the United States, and some places in Canada, African Americans will celebrate Juneteenth as Emancipation Day, or Freedom Day.

The story goes that on or around June 19, 1865, the abolition of slavery was announced in Texas and throughout the Confederate States of America.

Since the exact date is still somewhat questionable, most African Americans celebrate the dates from June 13 to 19 as Juneteenth. It is worth noting that in Missouri, many African Americans celebrate Aug. 4 as Emancipation Day.

This is historically true in Cooper, Howard and Jasper counties. That is the date in 1863, passed from generation to generation, that former slaves in Cooper, Howard and other counties became aware of the emancipation proclamation.

As a young man growing up in Joplin, Aug. 4 was a time of reunion, celebration and reflection. Black people from far and near would gather together at the “Negro Park” (Ewert Park) for a time of fellowship and remembrance.

Some people argue that emancipation celebrations should end. Opponents suggest that these celebrations only fan the flames of racial hatred and division.

I heard a broadcaster on a local talk show declare, ”African Americans should just be Americans. Slavery and segregation are over. Everyone who is an American is equal. Black people need to just move on.”

What this dear fellow needs to remember is the historical narrative of African Americans is the narrative of America. We cannot pick just the parts that make us comfortable; we must reflect upon it all.

I realize that the abolition of legal slavery was not an act of Anglo goodwill and compassionate feelings by common humanity. All of us know that President Lincoln did not want to abolish slavery as a once-and-for-all final act. His plan was a gradual process that would conclude in about 1920.

In a letter written to Horace Greeley, Lincoln stated, “If I could save the Union without freeing the slaves …I would.”

We all know that northern industrial interests fueled the abolition of legal slavery. They were drooling for those black bodies to be workers in the new northern factories. Economics, not a heightened sense of morality, pushed the emancipation of African Americans

And yet, I still believe we should celebrate Freedom Day. Why? Because we have many African American youth who know little or nothing about their ancestors. They are ignorant of segregation and fail to grasp the horror of lynching.

The result is a new slavery to crass materialism, confused identity, violence and self-centeredness. Our youth are not the only ones enslaved. The same is evident among many black adults.

One of the possible solutions to the problem our new slavery is education about who we really are. Frederick Douglass wrote, “Education makes a child (and an adult) unfit for slavery.”

His words are true today. To celebrate our history is to learn about who we are and what we can be as black people in America.

It is also important for Anglo people to join in the celebration. History records that many white Americans fought against slavery and segregation. Quakers and Unitarians Universalists are the most prominent in my mind.

The celebrations remind white people that the position of friend or foe is not reduced to color, but to character. Whoever stands against oppression is my friend.

White Americans will receive an education that can liberate them from the bondage of privilege. Sojourner Truth once said that one of the hardest tasks she faced was convincing a slave that he or she was a slave and that it was all right to be free.

The same is true for many white people in America. Celebrating the emancipation of black people is the opportunity to celebrate the possibility of white (Anglo) liberation.

Several Juneteenth celebrations are happening in the Columbia and Jefferson City area. Take time to celebrate the possibility of our mutual emancipation.

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