This past Wednesday, Congress voted overwhelmingly to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday, marking the day—June 19th, 1865—when Union Army General Gordon Granger and his troops advanced into the remote, former confederate territory of Galveston, Texas and announced that slavery was officially over in the United States.
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. 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 hired laborer."
Imagine the emotional release of joy, celebration, and relief among those 250,000 enslaved men, women, and children—to be able to see their dreams of freedom come true—only to find out that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery a full two and a half years earlier on January 1, 1863 and that the Civil War had officially ended on June 2, 1865. The plantations of Galveston were the last to find out. June 19th, or “Juneteenth” celebrates the true end of the inhumane practice of slavery in this country.
While Juneteenth may remind us of a grim time in America’s history, it is a celebration of one of the founding principles in the Declaration of Independence—freedom. This commemoration of the end of slavery, which has also been known as Emancipation Day and Jubilee Day, has been recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in all states except South Dakota. In 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday. You can click here to find out when your state declared it a holiday. [NOTE: The list ends in 2016]
The NAACP Image Award winning sitcom, Black-ish, which tackles topics from social justice and politics to pop culture and family values through the lens of the Black experience, brought Juneteenth to the mainstream. Click the image below to see how.
JUNE 19TH – THE ORIGIN OF FATHER’S DAY
June 19th is also the origin of Father’s Day, marked now on the third Sunday in June.
Sonora Smart Dodd wanted to honor her father, William Jackson Smart. Smart was a twice-married, twice-widowed father of 14 children who raised his children in Spokane, Washington. According to his daughter, Sonora, he was a “great home person” who exemplified fatherly love and protection.
In 1909, while attending a Mother’s Day service at her church, Sonora had an epiphany—if mothers deserved a day in honor of their loving service, why not fathers? She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers, and government officials to drum up support for her idea and was successful. On June 19th, 2010, Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day. Slowly, the holiday spread. In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday.
NOT ALL FATHERS ARE FREE
Many fathers across the U.S. are imprisoned before trial as a result of our cash bail system of justice. Individuals who cannot pay cash bail are often detained for days, weeks, months, and even years at a time. Every day spent in detention increases the severity of consequences the poor must face, as the likelihood of receiving a criminal conviction increases in proportion to time spent in jail. Pretrial detention is disruptive to an individual’s life and can result in loss of employment, public assistance, housing and other needs. Thus, the current system of cash bail leads to further impoverishment of the poor. The cash bail system favors those who can afford to post bail and buy their freedom and penalizes those who cannot.
Indeed, it is well established that Black and Brown people are arrested at higher rates than Whites due to racial profiling, and are disproportionately affected by the cash bail system. Estimates show that the rate of Black defendants in 2012 was nearly five times higher than Whites, and three times higher than Hispanics. Despite landmark changes to state pretrial rules in 2017, those numbers haven’t changed much.
Pretrial detention is intended only for individuals who pose a threat to public safety, or may be a flight risk and therefore may not show up at court. Research has shown that pretrial detention increases the likelihood of being arrested upon release. New Jersey and Washington, D.C. have eliminated the use of cash bail, and studies have shown that defendants appear in court at the same or higher rates than before reforms were implemented. However, the practice of detaining individuals pretrial has become commonplace, despite recent court rule changes. Non-judicial court commissioners make bail decisions based on a number of different factors as required by legislative statute, including the nature and circumstance of the offense, an individual’s prior record, community ties, any recommendation from the State’s Attorney’s Office, if provided, and other factors.
As I wrote in my previous newsletter, people in pretrial detention now make up more than 2/3 of American’s jail population. They are presumed innocent under the law, yet they suffer the harms of incarceration because they can’t afford bail.
IMPACTS OF INCARCERATED FATHERS
In 2007, 52% of prisoners were parents. This amounted to 1.1 million fathers and 120,000 mothers, impacting 2.7 million children. That’s more prison-induced, single-parent children than three times the population of San Francisco. Of these numbers, 2/3 of imprisoned fathers had committed nonviolent crimes and many were victims of harsh and punitive drug sentencing laws.
More than half of imprisoned parents are the primary wage-earners for their families. Incarceration can lead to extreme financial distress for the entire family, with dire implications for children. With breadwinning parents out of the picture, our country’s egregious child poverty rates are exacerbated. Fathers are especially important in this regard—on average, a family’s income drops by 22 percent when the father is incarcerated. For a single parent, this may even mean losing children and falling deeper into debt.
As of 2014, 1 in 9 Black children had a parent in prison, compared to only 1 in 57 White children. Parental imprisonment threatens the well-being of children physically, psychologically, and socially. It impacts the economic and educational status of the children, both important indicators of future economic mobility.
Child poverty inhibits the neurological development of children. Poverty induced by an incarcerated parent comes with additional stigmas, thus leading to little social and community support.
Children with imprisoned parents also do worse in school, an important indicator of economic mobility. Twenty-three percent of children with incarcerated fathers are expelled or suspended, compared to 4 percent of children without.
WE CAN HONOR THE DAY
As we celebrate Juneteenth, the freedom from slavery, and Father’s Day, when we honor those fathers who, like William Jackson Smart exemplify his family values, consider making a much-needed donation to one of the following 501 (c)3 tax deductible organizations.
The National Bail Out organization is collective of individuals working to end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. The group has implemented a Bail Out Toolkit for use in communities and by local organizations, which provides an overview of the bailout process, answers to frequently asked questions about bail and bail reform, a step-by-step guide on how to develop a bail out and a community-based supportive services plan, and gives resources for those interested in advocating for the end of money bail.
The Bail Project is a non-profit organization that pays bail for people in need. Bail is returned to the fund at the end of a case and is re-used to free someone else. Over the next five years, The Bail Project plans to open dozens of sites in high-need jurisdictions with the goal of paying bail for tens of thousands of low-income Americans.
You can find a directory of community-led organizations that regularly post pretrial bail in your community from: the National Bail Fund Network (https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/nbfn-directory)
To honor the freedoms celebrated by Juneteenth and to help those fathers who are not free due to strict cash bail laws, consider making a tax-deductible contribution, in honor or memory of your father, to any of the above funds. Remember that Freedom should be free.