Juneteenth, the commemoration of emancipation, is a moment of reflection for this country. Last year, the Harvard professor and historian Annette Gordon-Reed published a piece in The New Yorker about her childhood in Texas and the meaning of the holiday for her family and community. Juneteenth and the Fourth of July were inextricably linked during those years, she notes, in part because the Declaration of Independence carried a promise yet to be fulfilled for Black Americans. “I also did not know, as a child,” she writes, “how intensely African-Americans had fought to keep alive the memory of Juneteenth—to commemorate our ancestors’ struggles and their hopes, and to link them to our own.”
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This week, as we prepare to honor the holiday and those sacrifices, on June 19th, we’re bringing you a selection of pieces about racial injustice and the abiding legacy of slavery. In “The Prophecies of George Floyd,” Michael Eric Dyson explores how Floyd’s killing sparked some of the largest protests in American history, and considers the inescapable threat of violence by police officers against Black Americans. In “The Long War Against Slavery,” Casey Cep writes about the protracted struggle of abolitionists and civil-rights activists across the country. In “Black Bodies in Motion and in Pain,” Edwidge Danticat reflects on the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, and asks whether the nation will ever confront the devastating repercussions of white supremacy. (“Black bodies are increasingly becoming battlefields upon which horrors are routinely executed, each one so close to the last that we barely have the time to fully grieve and mourn.”) Finally, in “The Matter of Black Lives,” from 2016, Jelani Cobb profiles Alicia Garza, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and examines the powerful appeal of the movement that is helping to change America.