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It's June the Nineteenth

What should Americans do for the holiday?

By Skyler SaundersPublished 29 days ago Updated 29 days ago 4 min read
It's June the Nineteenth
Photo by Tasha Jolley on Unsplash

It’s June the nineteenth. Who cares? Who should care? Every American who values and holds onto the truths that are self-evident should at least care. Even if no one celebrates through barbecues and reading stories of old, it must be said that this date is insufficient to people like the late Mae Louise Miller (neé Wall). Yes, we can say hooray for the fact that the Union officers at Galveston Texas greeted the slaves and told them about their emancipation. We must, however, be able to recognize Miss Miller and others who survived peonage, or work for little or no pay and off the books, well into the twenty-first century.

In the documentary, The Cotton Pickin’ Truth (2010), the film details how peonage continued and produced ghastly results. Mae and others had to toil under the sweltering Mississippi sun picking cotton, corn, potatoes, whatever could be harvested. And the horrors of slavery echoed into her experience. White men raped and sexually assaulted women like Mae and her mother on a frequent basis. This was not the nineteenth century but the twentieth century, this was the middle of that decade.

She detailed how she had to eat rats and rabbits and other small animals raw just to survive. Mae felt that all black people must live like this. That they were to be overwhelmed by the burdens of a malicious institution against their will, against their hopes. Finally, in 1961, Mae found her freedom. She tried to start a family but because of the sexual assaults, she was made barren and decided to adopt children. Eventually, she learned to read and write and to lobby for reparations.

Here is a clear and precise example of someone who deserved money from the government to pay her and she still went to her grave without receiving a red cent from the government. Her death in 2014 and the whole of her life have still been overlooked and only appear in scant newspaper articles and books.

That is why Juneteenth ought to observe her story along with her six siblings. The continuation of this egregious act of forcing human beings to complete work after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed decades before Mae’s ordeal only shows its disgusting nature. It’s almost like the reverse of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks on February 26, 1993. Their names are forever enshrined on the memorial wall on New York City along with the 9/11/2001 victims. Mae’s name ought to be remembered every time the Juneteenth flag is waved or flown. Iconic in nature, this banner ought to fly with Mae in mind and her family members. The back-breaking, mind-numbing, soul-crushing labor in which she participated only served as a way for human beings to treat other human beings as chattel.

With the power of her mind, Mae became a glass cutter later in life. Through her ability to strike forth and push through the din of detractors who didn’t believe her story, she blossomed into a whole person. Just a year before she passed away, Mississippi became the final state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment in 2013, making it the last to say slavery is a crime. This sad tale is akin to the blues. It has all the makings of the irony of the music and still expresses the beauty and resilience of the soul. Mae might not have seen the day where she would get just remittance for her family and her, but if there is to be a “Juneteenth” there should be some kind of plaque or reading or showing of Cotton to remind everyone that slavery in the United States didn’t stop in Galveston, Texas.

If we are to learn anything from this whole experience, it is that Mae and her living relatives had and have the strongest case for reparations. People quibble about people in their past that saw bondage under the master’s whip and other atrocious acts. These are the individuals who ought to seek the dollars from the United States, despite little documentation being present. Mae’s words could account for more than just some paperwork regarding the nature of what she experienced.

June nineteenth shouldn’t even be called “Juneteenth” until the realization of the fact that Mae and others labored without pay under brutal conditions. They stood for the idea that even though millions of enslaved people put the sweet cup of freedom to their lips and drank, it is still a reality that scores of other humans never even got a chance to consider their liberty, even in the twentieth century. While we double-dutch, and sing songs, and hold hands, and eat red velvet cake and drink strawberry soda, let us always remember the life of Mae Miller. She was a pioneer who didn’t even know it. Her urges to run away from her misery became thwarted by family members who threatened they’d all be killed if she escaped. Such is the disgusting nature of slavery in America.

If we are to remember the fact that slavery existed and is America’s Original Sin, let us also be mindful of the fact that this is still the noblest nation known to man. Even with its flaws and foibles, this country, at its founding and its revolutionary documents such as The Declaration of Independence represent the entirety of a dually beautiful and horrific few chapters in its history. June nineteenth is supposed to be a day in which people move with joy and rhythm to the sounds of everything from the blues and country to gospel to jazz to soul to rock 'n' roll to R&B to hip hop. Now that the date is formally recognized as a holiday, it should be able to be a day where history is read and highlighted. In all of the gyrations and dances that will occupy parades and floats, it should be remembered that the outstanding Ralph Ellison wrote Juneteenth (1999) and that his words should go along with Mae’s. She may not have been as educated or astute in diction as the late writer, but her expression of her experiences should suffice nonetheless.

From now on, we should remember that these ancestors live on in memory and in performances, audio, stills and motion pictures. Mae ought to be the one voice reverberating around the country as we look back at the dying night and gaze upon the rising sun.

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About the Creator

Skyler Saunders

I’ve been writing since I was five-years-old. I didn’t have a wide audience until I was nine. If you enjoy my work feel free to like but also never hesitate to share. Thank you for your patronage. Take care.

S.S.

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Comments (1)

  • Andrea Corwin 29 days ago

    👏👏👏👏 Nice piece, Skylar! Here is an NPR article you might like: https://www.npr.org/2021/06/17/1007498876/how-juneteenth-became-national-holiday?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20240619&utm_term=9536353&utm_campaign=news&utm_id=48772219&orgid=148&utm_att1=

Skyler SaundersWritten by Skyler Saunders

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