A few words about Juneteenth…

I thought I knew quite a bit about American History.  I majored in History at UT many years ago, and have enjoyed reading biographies and historical accounts ever since.  But I was stunned when I read Grant by Ron Chernow.  It wasn’t the part about General Grant and the Civil War that stunned me. It was Grant’s presidency, (1869-77) when southern resistance to the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments turned to violence and ruthless power grabs.

I was stunned again when I read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. This book tells the story of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural south to the cities of the north and west in the decades following World War I.  The book focuses on three people, one of whom moved from Mississippi to the South Side of Chicago, not far from where I grew up.  Where my grandmother was the last white person to move out of the neighborhood. 

I’ve listened to a good bit of the 1619 Project podcast produced by the New York Times.  Our legislature has dictated that this cannot be discussed in our classrooms, but I found it to be thought-provoking and original in its perspective. I know that there are reputable historians who have cast doubt on a few of its assertions, but I haven’t heard anyone question one of its main points: that the institution of slavery was a foundational pillar for the country’s economic success.  Many Americans profited because so many other Americans were forced to work for nothing. And that was not limited to southern slave owners.  Northern businessmen and institutions also reaped the benefits of slave labor. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never thought about all those connections.

I lived in Tulsa from 1962 to 1966 and never heard a word about the 1921 massacre and destruction of Black Wall Street.

Our new law about the social studies curriculum is built on a fear of “whiteshaming.”  We don’t want white kids to feel “anguish, distress or anxiety” when they learn about some of the darker chapters in the American story.  I get that.  Shame doesn’t do any good, and certainly there is no reason for me or you or our children to feel shame for something that happened long before we were born.

But we should know about these things. We should think about them. We should consider the connections between things that happened in the past and the way things are today.  We can’t be fearful about learning about the past, or hearing the perspectives of people whose life experience is different from ours.   If we refuse to do those things, then that’s on us—not our ancestors. 

On that note I will just add that I’m pleased to let you know that Juneteenth is now an official holiday at the law firm of Walsh Gallegos Treviño Kyle & Robinson P.C.  The three white guys who started the firm in 1983 never even thought about that. But times change. And so have we. 


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com