Letter: Much work needed to overcome legacy of slavery
Editor of the Reformer,
A narrow definition of original sin limits the transgression to the first perpetrator of the act. A broader definition allows us to acknowledge that our country was founded by a racist society. For all of its brilliance, the Constitution is the flawed product of the racist society. By no stretch of the imagination can the founding of America be viewed as the beginning of the end of slavery on this continent. It is well and good to celebrate the freedom gained by Elizabeth Freeman in 1781, but we must also recognize other important legal milestones in our nation's history.
In the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the Supreme Court ruled that enslaved people were nothing more than mere chattel. The court ruled that the enslaved people "are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States." On the occasion of his first inauguration in 1861, Abraham Lincoln declared that "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists."
This past week I have been grappling with the troubling history of the Juneteenth holiday. The enslaved peoples who were freed following the Civil War faced exceedingly grim prospects. Black codes, forced segregation and myriad other official and unofficial acts placed their lives and liberty at continuous risk. The tenuous position of life and liberty for people of color in this nation persists to this very day. The Juneteenth holiday is also a time to recognize how much work remains to be done before each and every person in this nation may enjoy the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Putney, June 23
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.