June 17, 2014

Juneteenth Day

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

On January 1st 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, granting slaves throughout the United States freedom. While historic, this proclamation did not end the institution of slavery. Most slaves lived in territories controlled by confederate forces that refused to recognize slaves’ freedom. It was not until June 19th 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and issued the emancipation order that the last of the slaves were set free.  We commemorate this day, June 19th, the oldest commemoration of the abolition of slavery throughout the nation. Juneteenth Day is the African-American day of independence. It is a time of remembrance, reflection, and celebration across the state and the nation; a day to honor the elimination of slavery and to celebrate the proclamation of freedom.

While the black community has come a long way since June 19th1865, we still bear the burden of years of oppression. While we may be free from the bonds of slavery, we are far from independent.  In Milwaukee the black community has been under attack, especially in the last four years. Milwaukee schools have suffered massive cuts in funding for education, putting our children at risk of receiving a lower quality education. For grades 3 through 8, 85% of students cannot read at grade level. The future leaders of our community stand at risk of not receiving the opportunities and abilities to lead.

Moreover, Wisconsin leads the nation in the highest incarceration rate of black men. The current administration has done nothing to help correct this injustice. Instead, Republicans are advocating for legislation that will only further worsen this rate. It is a travesty that institutionalized racism of this kind is still allowed to occur in our country.

A recent city of Milwaukee report showed that Milwaukee’s black infant mortality rate is on the rise. I commend the Mayor in his commitment to lower this rate, but it must be realized that this number is symptomatic of a number of issues. Among those are lack of access to healthcare, punishing poverty and joblessness, and far too much violence. We need better hospitals, more funding for education (not less), jobs programs, community infrastructure and more!  

Even with these injustices I wholeheartedly believe the United States is the Land of Opportunity; a country where anyone has the ability to better themselves and their community. My story is a testament to the ideal of the American Dream. Not long ago a young black girl from the north side of Milwaukee wouldn’t have even dreamed about being elected to office, let alone elected to serve as a state senator. We all have the potential to be great. We must continue to remember what we have suffered. We must continue to fight.

Juneteenth Day is not just about the past, but about the future. It is a day where remind ourselves and the world that a great injustice happened in this land and that never again will we allow such an injustice happen. We see the state of black America and know that true freedom, equality and independence still elude many of us. Poverty, inequality, and racial hatred are the chains of our ancestors, chains that too many of us still wear. On this Juneteenth Day, I call on each of you to remember our shared history and to dedicate yourself to a brighter future. Together we can put an end to the injustices around us and create a world where all our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and family, are truly free.

Madison Office - 608-266-5810

Room 5, South Wing
State Capitol , P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707-7882