On Juneteenth, the Washington Mystics and Washington Wizards joined forces to recognize a common cause.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger led Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas, to deliver the news that the Civil War and slavery were both over. Thus, the holiday of Juneteenth was born.
“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” Granger read to the people of Texas as part of General Order Number 3. “This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and laborer.”
However, that date came a while after the Emancipation Proclamation via Abraham Lincoln, which became official Jan. 1, 1863. But, in a fantastic example of the Black experience in America, it took more than two years for it to reach the entire nation.
And now more than 150 years later, it is hard to argue that “an absolute equality of rights” has come to this country.
This is why the Mystics, Wizards and thousands of others marched from Capitol One Arena to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington on Friday.
“They say Juneteenth is a day of celebration of freedom, a day of reflection upon the struggle that was endured,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said to the crowd during the march. “Last night, I had a little bit of time to reflect. The question that dawned on me is, ‘What is freedom?’ By definition, it is the ability to act and speak whenever you want, (about) whatever you want without any restraint. But another question I ask myself is, ‘How can the Black community feel free in a world where racism and discrimination and prejudice are normalized and condoned, where these things are taught and passed down generation to generation, encouraged and often times celebrated? How does the Black community grow when lives are taken from them without justice and without any consequences?'”
And therein lies the irony of Juneteenth. Every year, Black freedom, which is American freedom, is celebrated in the same nation where massive inequalities along racial lines exist and have for hundreds of years. It happens in the same nation where prisons are privatized and there are monetary incentives to lock people up. It happens in the same nation where people of color are disproportionately tried, convicted and given longer prison sentences.
And it happens in the same nation where George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and a slew of others have been killed at the hands of police just in this year alone.
“We can’t ignore this anymore,” Mystics guard Natasha Cloud told her fellow marchers. “That’s been our message to everyone in America. You can’t ignore this anymore. Your silence is a knee on our neck. Your neutrality is taking the side of the oppressor. With Black Lives Matter Plaza, you have to see it. You have to wake up to it every single day. You have to go by it every day. It’s a subtle reminder that we’re here and we still matter. Our lives have always mattered and until Black lives matter, not all lives matter.”
Cloud has been vocal on social issues for some time, but her voice has become particularly strong in recent weeks. On May 30, she opined a piece on The Players’ Tribune titled, “Your Silence Is a Knee on My Neck,” explaining in no uncertain terms that enough is enough. Not long after, Converse announced a deal with Cloud, the first female basketball player to sign with the brand. Converse made it clear that it supports Cloud’s statements.
Cloud, Beal, their teammates and everyone else who joined them in their demonstration are calling for the freedom and equality Juneteenth is meant to celebrate. Hopefully there will be a Juneteenth in our lifetimes that will truly represent its ideals.