Alabama and Juneteenth: politics and reflections

Cudjo Lewis, once believed to be the last remaining person to experience the horror of the Clotilda until the discovery of Redoshi, aka Sally Smith (d. 1937) and Matilda McCrear (d. 1940). (Image Source: Erik Overbey Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama.)

Alabama’s connection to Juneteenth runs about 86-feet long and 23-feet wide: the size of the last known ship (the schooner Clotilda) to strip Africans from their homes, package them like cargo, and embark them to the shores of the state’s Mobile Bay — a year before the start of the Civil War.

Many of those enslaved by the Clotilda were not freed until 1865.

Such gruesome voyage from the banks of West Africa to Alabama’s coast took place fifty-two years after the United States prohibited the foreign importation of slaves in 1808, even though the country chose to continue treating human beings like inanimate objects, trading them like stock, transferring them like products for interstate commerce, and selling them from plantation to plantation.

On June 10, 2021, Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) issued a proclamation that honored the importance of Juneteenth, which came a few days prior to the federal ordination of Juneteenth as a holiday. While America does something that is long past due, we, in Alabama, must reflect on what it means for the governor to acknowledge the horrid realities of enslavement while simultaneously catering to it.

Governor Ivey’s words acknowledge the truths of enslavement, but they seek to serve two masters: one etched in the proclamation, another mounted throughout the state and sustained by legalese and lies. Such attempt to honor African Americans while the state continues to honor the Confederacy limbos with the ideals of freedom and justice. And if we have learned nothing over the past four years, especially in light of the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol, it is that such lukewarm politicking warrants no just reward.

For reasons not even God may be able to explain, Alabama — like many southern states — has a peculiar, erotic relationship with incrementalism. Such love is unquestionably deadly and undeniably dangerous. Such perverted intimacy is unequivocally criminal.

As a result of this perversity, even though Juneteenth has become a federal holiday, Alabama cannot proclaim Juneteenth Day until it overturns the Memorial Preservation Act, a gaslighted bill designed to support, protect, and defend Confederate monuments as if they are gods of the state, made to be worshiped in spirit and truth.

Alabama cannot proclaim Juneteenth Day, with true sincerity, without ridding the state-ordained holiday calendar with days that honor the fight to keep the ideals of the Lost Cause alive. Treason and truth cannot live together. Honoring Juneteenth is not restitution for the state’s unending glorification of its wicked past. It is only a reinforcement of this state’s gravest expression of communal sins: apathy, complacency, and hypocrisy.

What should be a closed case that acknowledges the errors of history has instead been a long, never-ending campaign to protect and defend the ghastly narration of demonic delinquents who shipped, bought, sold, and killed Black people in the name of God, country, and patriotism.

And leave it to Alabama to have two Republican Congressmen vote against the Juneteenth holiday two days ago. Their actions are sad but not surprising. Their actions further explain how white supremacy has a romantic relationship with anti-blackness.

White supremacy married anti-blackness long ago — and it will not divorce its relationship with bigotry, racism, and evil — ever. White supremacy will continue to carry anti-blackness, anti-justice, and anti-truth in a wagon behind its own hearse. Once buried — like members of the Confederacy, the Klan, and others — it will continue to contaminate the ground for which it is buried — ensuring that it never truly dies.

Our constant fight to cleanse Alabama’s soil — and end white supremacy’s grip in Alabama, and across the country — is long, like the arc of the immoral universe. But somewhere, far beyond what the imagination can ascertain, is the arc of the moral universe. Sometimes I wonder if it is still bending towards justice like Martin Luther King said it did. And while my wondering only proves how justice in this country is often delayed for Black people, the fight of Opal Lee, coined the Grandmother of Juneteenth — who, without her and so many others, this day wouldn’t be possible — shows how, with all that we have endured, we refuse to allow white supremacy to have the last say so. We, on this day, because of ancestors and elders, celebrate as the voice of Lucile Clifton rings in our soul: “…come celebrate/with me that everyday/something has tried to kill me/and has failed.”

Like the spaces in Clifton’s poetic breathes as she ministers to our soul, Juneteenth represents the conjuring of space and metamorphization of language that speaks of freedom in more ways than one. Here, descendants of enslaved people — and Black people across plains, mountains, and rivers — laugh, sing, dance, eat, and even weep. It is here, today, we express these emotions — not excluded from grief, yet not destroyed by despair.

Threats of death, armies of revisionist history, and false narratives of victimization stand before us in the name of whiteness and their gods. Idolatrous worship is the source of this cultural warfare that we face, still alive in the place many of us call home: Sweet Home Alabama.

White supremacy has a way of making sweetness taste bitter — dry and rotten. But no foul taste of complacency or white supremacy can take our peace, nor steal our joy, or quell our fight. And no proclamation or holiday will satisfy our hunger for justice — reparations and revitalization.

And it is for these things we memorialize and honor ancestors of freedom, searchers of home, lovers of community.

That’s Juneteenth.

Here in Alabama.

And so much more.

And I embraced this day while thinking about Africatown (Mobile, Alabama), where the children and children’s children of those enslaved by the Clotilda reside. Doing what they can to ensure that the truth — of their roots, their mothers and fathers, their Africa — lives forever.

1935. 1937. 1940.

The years of the last three.

Cudjo Lewis.

Redoshi, aka Sally Smith.

Matilda McCrear.

Much known research about the Clotilda and its aftermath focuses on Lewis, but more stories are being told. Yes, more stories are being told. And we must journey to Africatown (Mobile, AL) — and listen. I hear a museum is on the rise. Let us read here and elsewhere, discovering more.

Juneteenth doesn’t end on June 19.

It is forever.

Read and discover more.

Alabama’s Africatown Hopes For Revival After Slave Ship Discovery : NPR

Alabama’s Africatown can tell stories of slavery in ways few others can, officials say — al.com

Descendants of Last Slave Ship Still Live in Alabama Community — HISTORY

She Survived a Slave Ship, the Civil War and the Depression. Her Name Was Redoshi. — The New York Times (nytimes.com)

The last slave ship survivor and her descendants identified (nationalgeographic.com)

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Christian G. Crawford

is from Birmingham, Alabama. Young Politico. Scholar. Writer. Master’s Student of Theology, Black Church Studies, and American Studies @ Vanderbilt University.