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The Congressional Black Caucus Reflects on Juneteenth and the Promise of Justice and Liberty for All

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Washington, June 19, 2020 | comments

Every year on June 19, we celebrate “Juneteenth” to honor the day that the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were informed of the end of the brutal Civil War and the beginning of their freedom in 1865. This day was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official on January 1, 1863.

As we commemorate this day we must acknowledge that we are also entering a new era where reexamining our history and acknowledging that the physical reminders of white supremacy cannot continue to be celebrated. Yesterday, the portraits of former Confederate House Speakers were removed from the U.S. Capitol at the order of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In 2017, Pelosi called on then-Speaker Paul Ryan to join her in supporting legislation to remove the Confederate statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection, which she furthered in a request for their removal in a letter to the Joint Committee on the Library earlier this month. 

In March, the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer introduced legislation to  remove Chief Justice Taney’s bust from the U.S. Capitol. For context, Chief Justice Taney was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and wrote the Dred Scott decision. His bust will be replaced by the great Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Justice. 

As Black lawmakers committed to serving our country and defending our democracy, these visible reminders are discouraging to say the least. By keeping these reminders around, what does this say to the young Black children who participate in tours in the U.S. Capitol? The people’s house can never really be for the people, with reminders of a painful history that sought to eliminate our existence. It is time to replace the monuments of oppression with the monuments of liberty. 

With initiatives such as the 1619 Project which commemorated the 400 years of enslavement in America, the CBC’s historic trip to Ghana, the opening of an exhibit dedicated to Sally Hemings in Jefferson’s Monticello mansion, and the creation of the Slave Memorial at Mount Vernon, we are witnessing US history being retold and ensuring our Black History is also American history. 

This Juneteenth holiday we celebrate our history but we also acknowledge that the fight for equality and justice promised has not been fulfilled. The Congressional Black Caucus remains committed to addressing the legislative concerns of the African American community and pursuing a policy agenda in response to it. 

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