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This Juneteenth, the pandemic underlines US racial disparities

A demonstration marking Juneteenth on June 19, 2020 in Washington, D.C., at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

Juneteenth will be here soon.

It is the day commemorating Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger’s June 19, 1865, proclamation in Galveston, Texas, of General Order No. 3, which stated Texas slaves were free, and that there was an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.

Granger proclaimed this almost two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery in (most) Confederate states, of which Texas was one. But the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t effect a change in Texas, and slavery was still legal and practiced in Delaware and Kentucky until the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in December 1865.

The Freedman’s Bureau, created two months after General Order No. 3 to help the newly freed people, found many obstacles among Texas whites. Some of them insisted their former slaves continue to work for no wages.

Juneteenth was first celebrated only by Blacks, originally in their churches and later in public parks. Today, it is celebrated by Blacks and some whites.

Last year, a small group of us – mostly, but not only white – at the request of the Movement for Black Lives, commemorated the day in Corrales. We may join others in Albuquerque this year.

This is some of what was said at the 2020 Corrales commemoration:

Despite the memorable words that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke during the 1963 March on Washington, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and subsequent efforts, still not enough has been done. Most Black people are still denied decent housing, good jobs, quality education and adequate medical care, and far too many are incarcerated for little or no reason. They suffer from a lack of wealth, a lack that derives in large part from their, unlike many white folks, having been denied bank loans to buy homes at relatively low cost for many years, and also the destruction of their banks, hotel, law firms and houses in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a hundred years ago. They suffer from having been victims of red-lining and restrictive housing covenants, as well as having incomes far too low to put some aside.

Today we might add: Our ongoing pandemic has shown extremely clearly our nation’s medical-care gap between Blacks and whites. And the wanton killing of Black people still continues.

A book on Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University and a Pulitzer Prize winner, has recently been published. In it, she describes what she, a Black woman, still loves about Texas before she tells us the details of June 19, 1865, and thereabouts. It is a short and interesting book. You may appreciate reading it.