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Friday's celebration of Juneteenth marks 155 years since the end of slavery. On June 19, 1865, Union troops moved into Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. It had gone into effect 2 1/2 years earlier, but the Galveston area was the last remaining holdout to allow people to be enslaved.
This year, Juneteenth is getting more widespread attention than it usually does — some say the attention it's always deserved — as protests against police killings of Black Americans and racism have galvanized much of the country.
L'Merchie Frazier is director of education and interpretation at the Museum of African American History in Boston. She spoke with Jack Lepiarz on WBUR's All Things Considered.
On whether this Juneteenth feels different
"I do believe that it has a heightened presence, even though we can't gather in large groups. The recognition that America was invested in slavery and its end was celebrated by those who were most impacted by it ... and looking at the conversations that are happening across America and even the globe about spatial and social justice, is certainly significant."
On the significance of Juneteenth to her personally
"It impacts me as a continuum of American history that is about turning America upright, as America was steeped in the institution of slavery for its founding and building. ... It means a lot to me that the Emancipation Proclamation was urged by people in Boston, and especially the free Black community in Beacon Hill, and urging President Lincoln to amass troops that would be Black to fight in this Civil War. It means a lot to me that there is a memorial that celebrates those men and their valiant leader, Robert Gould Shaw. The [54th Massachusetts Regiment] were fighting for their lives. They were fighting for what would be a future of people of color and Black people to have their own voices in American history and in the fight for freedom."
On what she would like people, especially those who are white, to take from this day
"Well, I think that the issue of slavery is tough stuff. And to recognize that we are at a point where we need to reshape America's narrative, to remove inferiority as a case for describing a group of people — that those who are not within this realm of [considering] themselves Black or brown people are looking [inward on what may lead them] to change their vocabulary of how they speak for and about and to people who are of African descent in this country. Black lives matter. But Black lives have always mattered is a stance that we need to put ourselves in."
On her suggestion that Juneteenth be a time of self-reflection in the Black community
"I think that because of the issue of white supremacy as a doctrine — [saying that] those that are identified as Black and brown [are] inferior to those who are white, that has been levied since the 1500s in the Western Hemisphere — is a very divisive device that impacts us in terms of our own self love. It's created a look in the mirror that does not reflect the beauty of Black people. ... And so we have to think about our own embrace of our own ... strengths, accomplishments, power, voice to go forward."
On how the Museum of African American History is marking this Juneteenth, virtually
"We are having — with a collaboration of the Friends of the Public Garden, the National Park Service — an event tonight. The [Royall House and Slave Quarters] museum is the host for this event that will present the poetry of Dr. Malcolm Tariq, who is an award-winning African-American scholar and poet ... We want to elevate literature as a way ... to get through this and to find some resolution to support our renewal."
This segment aired on June 19, 2020.
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