Poetic Tongues/Fabu

Poetic Tongues

Juneteenth Now More than Ever

Juneteenth Celebrations on June 19th remain one of the most important holidays in the history and culture of African Americans in the United States. Juneteenth is our official freedom recognition that we were brave to survive the horror of enslavement.  We endured as a people, by continuing to love, and forming families despite enslavers and the law.  During chattel slavery and neo-slavery, we continued creating artistically and inventing products that made work and lives easier. Chattel slavery means that one person has complete control over another person, whether enslaved in the house or in the fields. Chattel slavery lasted from 1619 with the Portuguese owning people as slaves, to 1865 when Black men and women joined the Union Army to defeat the Confederate Army and legal slavery ended. Neo slavery or modern slavery are the slave remnants that remain in American institutions in present-day society. An example of neo-slavery would be the recent incident on May 31 at the Baraboo graduation.

Dr. Rainey Briggs has been the superintendent for the School District of Baraboo since July 2021. Everyone in Baraboo must know he is a Black man. This Wisconsin high school superintendent was shoved aside by a White father who didn’t want him to shake his daughter’s hand while in line to receive her high school diploma at a graduation ceremony. Matthew Eddy leaped up on the stage and physically shoved Briggs away from his daughter.

Eddy later claimed he shoved Briggs in response to the school official allegedly rolling his eyes during a prior disciplinary hearing when his daughter was facing expulsion. Obviously, since the daughter was receiving a diploma, she was not expelled. You would think that Eddy would have appreciated the reprieve and enjoyed the new graduate.

Frankly “he rolled his eyes” sounds like a lame excuse and too reminiscent of mocking Black people with Black face and racialized imitations. I believe racists should say “I am a racist and I did this because of Black skin color.” They show us by the actions, no matter what is dishonest about their excuses. Briggs has declined to accept his “this is for the public, apology.” Eddy was arrested for disorderly conduct and a restraining order has been placed against him.

In examining more Juneteenth history, Mrs. Edith Lawrence Hillard traces her family back generations in Wisconsin, starting with Nathaniel and Cythia Owens in the 1800’s, who lived, with 12 gifted and talented children, in Baraboo. Their adult children were artists, farmers, musicians and part of the Baraboo Circus as famous entertainers.  That means long ago Baraboo welcomed neighbors of every race.

As recent as 2018, Baraboo High School students took a widely publicized photo with some giving a “Nazi” salute. That superintendent, a White woman, did nothing, saying they were exercising their First Amendment rights. Didn’t she ever learn that the categories of unprotected speech include obscenity, child pornography, defamatory speech, true threats, fighting words and false advertising? Deciding what is not protected speech, and equally, not protected actions are reserved to courts of law. There must be some good people in Baraboo, cause one student called out the rest on this shameful photo that was at least, antisemitic postering. One can hear boos on the video tape in the attack on Briggs at the ceremony.

Baraboo will hold its first ever Juneteenth Celebration in collaboration with Madison College and Humility Inc. on June 19 from 10 am until 3 pm at Ochsner Park. Our Madison Juneteenth Celebration 2024 is celebrated on Saturday, June 15th in Penn Park. Milwaukee has a Juneteenth celebration too.

Come out wherever you are and celebrate the freedom of a people that Texas held in slavery until June 19, 1865 and that far too many in America would prefer to return to chattel slavery again.