“What is Juneteenth?”
Well, Juneteenth (June 19th) is the one of the oldest recognized celebrations of the ending of the institution of slavery within the United States. It commemorates when federal troops marched down through the south, specifically to Texas, to notify slaves of their freedom after the civil war.
The significance of Juneteenth should be even more so important to law students because of the connection between the institution of slavery and the historical establishment of law in America.
At the time of the drafting of the U.S. Constitution—a document we have all grown to love in our required Con Law class—slaves were not included in the group of individuals that the document was ultimately drafted to protect. It was quite the opposite—provisions in the Constitution further harmed individuals seized into slavery (i.e. the 3/5ths compromise).
However, when discussing the Constitution, some say it did directly not support slavery because it did not expressly include the word “slavery” or establish slaves as property. Other academics argue it is clear that evidence has shown that the Constitution was pro-slavery. Although it was not pro-slavery directly “on its face” (another lovely term we learned in Con Law), it did have some provisions that supported the institution of slavery within its effect.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”– Marcus Garvey
Regardless of varying opinions of the historical context in relation to the Constitution, no one can argue that the official end of slavery should be acknowledged and recognized today, especially by individuals involved with the practice of law. As law students who will hopefully one day become future professors, attorneys, politicians, and judges, it is important for us to be aware of the history of slavery in the United States, where many of the impacts of the institution remain at issue today.
In addition, this year’s Juneteenth celebration will be even more so significant because 2019 marks 400 years since the first recorded slaves were brought to America through the Transatlantic slave trade to America in 1619. Many government intuitions as well as academic institutions are recognizing this significant time in history.
For example, Congress enacted the 400 Years of African-American History Commission to recognize the resilience and cultural contributions of Africans and African Americans. In addition, schools and legal journals such as the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Law Review is hosting a symposium titled: 400 Years: Slavery and the Criminal Justice System.
So as Juneteenth officially approaches, make sure to recognize the impacts that the institutions of slavery had on the past and current day legal system—one we will all soon be a part of.
2019, Year of Return: The Forgotten Story, Enduring Legacy, and Meaning of Slavery in America: Artika R. Tyner writes for Civil Rights and Social Justice