To the Editor:
Abigail McGrath’s informative essay of June 24, 2021, about the new national holiday Juneteenth, is essential to a full understanding of slavery in America. Ms. McGrath’s observations could and should be the basis for discussion in schools and other venues.
As a septuagenarian Caucasian, I will never feel the rage of knowing that my ancestors were kidnapped, enslaved, and brutalized by whites. Nor can I grasp the personal impact of pervasive racism in today’s world. I, along with others of my race, can learn and care, but we cannot know.
My generation’s learning started in small ways. Black TV actors in serious roles gradually replaced the stumbling, wide-eyed stereotypes of 1950s sitcoms. Black singers began to appear on popular variety shows. By the mid-1960s, Black public leaders, actors, and pro athletes had become commonplace. These developments altered the narrow conditioning my parents had experienced.
We grew up, generally speaking, with a broader life view and, ultimately, a wider acceptance of human differences. That gradual, positive trend, I believe, has deepened from generation to generation. Along the way Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, and Black Lives Matter have become part of mainstream awareness.
I see an analogy here to the Juneteenth holiday. The fact that recent generations have seen and helped to shape an ever-broadening awareness of the Black narrative in America does not mitigate the horrors of that narrative. Instructive, uncompromising films of the slave experience can elucidate and motivate … but they cannot erase.
Similarly, a Juneteenth holiday cannot change history, but it is a step toward recognition of the brazen duplicity of Texas slave owners and politicians, who hid the Emancipation Proclamation from their chattel for more than two years, and then launched a vendetta against the freed slaves.
Over time — generation by generation — Juneteenth and what it represents will become embedded in the American consciousness. Schools, public leaders, businesses, professional sports teams — society in general — will honor the anniversary and its meaning. The truth will prevail.