Cosa significa “Juneteenth” per la comunità afroamericana

Juneteenth, crasi di June e di nineteenth, diciannove giugno.

Per l’esattezza, 1865. La guerra civile è conclusa da qualche settimana: il Generale Maggiore Gordon Granger arriva a Galveston, in Texas con la notizia che la guerra è finita e che gli schiavi ora sono liberi. Bisogna notare che questo avviene due anni e mezzo dopo che Lincoln, presidente degli Stati Unionisti, rende operativa la Emancipation Proclamation. Detta anche Proclamation 95, si tratta di un ordine esecutivo presidenziale, operativo dal 1 gennaio 1863, che cambia lo stato legale – a livello federale – di circa 3 milioni e mezzo di schiavi afro-americani presenti negli Stati Confederati. Rendendo cittadino libero chiunque si fosse trovato in territorio unionista. In Texas le truppe di Lincoln non sono però praticamente mai arrivate, e quindi l’ordine non può essere applicato. Il ritardo nella comunicazione è fonte di speculazioni politiche e tattiche, ma non esistono al momento fonti che possano confermarle.

The Surrender Keith Rocco
Il generale Lee consegna la resa al General Grant ad Appomattox, Viginia

Come capire la schiavitù? Come pensare di avvicinarsi ad una persona che ha vissuto in questa condizione? L’unica possibilità che abbiamo è ascoltare le loro voci: il progetto della Biblioteca del Congresso “Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell Their Stories” ha raccolto decine di storie personali. Liberi da sondaggi e analisi giornalistiche fatte oltreoceano, da ascoltare.

Eccone un esempio: l’intervista a Uncle Billy McCrea, realizzata a Jasper, Texas, 1940 (nell’archivio si trovano anche le trascrizioni scritte, per facilitare la comprensione):

Per quanto possibile, cerchiamo di immaginare cosa abbia provato una famiglia come quella di Uncle Billy all’arrivo del Generale Granger. Dopo secoli di schiavitù. Ci aiuta il trailer di un documentario della PBS:

Quello che avete sentito all’inizio del video è l’Ordine No. 3 del Generale Granger: scavando negli archivi del The New York Times, ho trovato l’edizione del 7 luglio 1865 che lo riporta:

The New York TImes Archive General Granger Order 3 the slaves all free

Tradotto:

I cittadini del Texas sono informati che, in accordo con la Proclamazione e l’ordine esecutivo degli Stati Uniti, tutti gli schiavi sono liberi. Questo comporta assoluta uguaglianza dei diritti e diritti di proprietà tra precedenti padroni e schiavi, e il legame esistente fino a questo momento diventa quello che esiste tra datore di lavoro e lavoratore assunto.

La storia di un mancato riconoscimento

La reazione a questa notizia varia dallo spiazzamento totale a ondate di festeggiamenti. Molti decidono di restare, formando contratti di lavoro subordinato, mentre altrettanti partono, anche senza avere una meta, con la sola idea che fuggire dalle piantagioni sia un primo assaggio della libertà. Gli ormai ex-schiavi iniziano quella che diventa la prima ondata di emigrazione verso gli Stati limitrofi e gli stati del Nord degli USA. Il ricordo del giugno 1865 serve quindi ad unire una comunità ben precisa, quella degli schiavi afroamericani, ora sparsi nel territorio americano e soggetti a forme gattopardesche di schiavitù.  Viene coniato il termine Juneteenth: il 19 giugno è un giorno di riunione di famiglia, di preghiera, di festeggiamento. Chi può, si reca in pellegrinaggio a Galveston, dove la comunità ricorda quello che è stato.

L’evoluzione storica dei festeggiamenti non è lineare: ad inizio ‘900 le leggi Jim Crow cercano attivamente di segregare gli afroamericani, per esempio sfruttando la falla presente nel Tredicesimo Emendamento, che limita la libertà in caso di crimini – ma questa è una storia che merita di essere trattata a parte. Con la segregazione, ma soprattutto causa le due guerre mondiali e la crisi economica degli anni ’30, spostarsi per festeggiare risulta più complicato. L’attenzione si risveglia negli anni ’60, con il Civil Rights Movement di Malcom X, Martin Luther King, le Pantere Nere.

Al Edwards, neo deputato Democratico afroamericano del Texas, nel 1979 propone e riesce a fare votare l’House Bill 1016, dando al Juneteenth status di festa statale.

1984 Press Photo State Rep. Al Edwards of Houston at Senate Dist. 13 convention
Al Edwards (March 19, 1937 – April 29, 2020)

Seguiranno altri Stati, più o meno velocemente. Tuttavia, a differenza di feste centrali nella storia bianca, come il Thanksgiving day, il giorno del ringraziamento, il Juneteenth è largamente sconosciuto, non è insegnato nelle scuole. Alcuni Stati lo riconoscono come festa nazionale, ma non è una festa federale, con conseguente chiusura delle fabbriche e degli uffici.

Recognition of Juneteenth as a holiday in the US
Timeline Riconoscimento. Rosso: prima del 2000. Giallo: tra il 2000 e il 2009. Blu: dal 2010 

Come si festeggia?

Cibo e bevande prevalentemente di colore scarlatto, simbolo di festa nell’Africa Occidentale, nodo centrale della tratta degli schiavi. Anche i vestiti sono importanti: durante la schiavitù esistevano delle leggi che vietavano indossare abiti pregiati o vistosi e nei primi anni di festeggiamento del Juneteenth era abitudine gettare in fiume i vestiti che appartenevano al padrone.

La bandiera del Juneteenth, immagine di copertina, è stata creata nel 1997 da Ben Haith, fondatore della National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF), e dall’illustratrice Lisa Jeanne Graf. Cosa significa? La stella centrale è il Texas, soprannominato the Lone Star State; la corona intermedia rappresenta una nova, una nuova stella, a simbolo della nascita della comunità afroamericana, ora libera. La linea centrale rappresenta l’orizzonte, il futuro. I colori – bianco, rosso, blu – sono quelli degli USA, a rivendicazione dell’appartenenza agli States, nonostante l’arrivo forzato nel continente.

Cosa significa, oggi?

Ne parlo con Randle Gelispie III, afroamericano di 60 anni. Figlio del batterista Randle Gelispie II, è cresciuto ad Akron, Ohio, negli anni ’60 del Civil Rights Movement. Si è poi trasferito prima a Lansing e poi a Charlotte, Michigan, dove ci siamo conosciuti tramite una comune amica che lavora nell’ambito dei rifugiati sudsudanesi.
La conversazione è riportata in inglese, per limitare passaggi culturali. La traduzione potrebbe arrivare in un futuro aggiornamento.

What was the situation in Michigan growing up in the ’60s?

“I’ve lived in two different places. I came to Lansing when I was 16, where I grew up at it’s in a place in Ohio called Akron, [..] where the big companies were tire companies or rubber companies that made tires.”
“I give you an idea how I was when I was growing up. When I was eight years old. We had the assassination of Martin Luther King, and we had riots. And there was a lot of social unrest. Across the country, just like you’ve been witnessing right now.”

“During the 60s blacks were unjustly murdered by law enforcement. Even wandering into the wrong neighborhood could get you killed. So I think there’s a portion of our society – white society – in this country, that didn’t believe the atrocities that were going on in our country. And I think what you’re seeing right now is generational: young whites are witnessing the actual recording of someone dying at the hands of law enforcement, which is something that’s been going on for 200 years with blacks unjustly, because you’ve seen it in real life time from a cell phone. For the first time, they’re seeing what blacks have been experiencing for years. Cause when I was a kid, it was common knowledge. If you got arrested by police, there was a good chance,  when they take you into custody, you are gonna get a phone call that your loved one had mysteriously died of some unknown natural causes which were basically either beaten to death or fixated by a choke glove. But that was the norm during the ’60s.”

What is Juneteenth, how to explain it to Italians?

“Well, let me explain it this way, I try to be as constructive and as honest as I can be. It started in 1865 shortly after the Civil War here in America. But technically three years prior to 1865 slaves were already free, they just didn’t know about it. We didn’t have mass media or anything like that. We had newspapers but you’d only see community stuff like run the race posters for slaves.
So basically today [June 19th], blacks in this country were free from slavery. It’s blacks recognizing the day slaves were free. Now, when you present it to other groups, it gets kind of dicey and tricky, especially in the US. The reason why I say that is because of the way Americans are socialized on this issue. It’s a very sensitive issue. Slavery and things of that sort. It’s kind of dicey to even have this subject. I think foreigners probably have a little bit more as an open mind to learn these things because they don’t have the history of having to deal with it, you know, coming from a different place.”

What does it mean for you? How do you celebrate?

“To be honest with you, I wasn’t even aware of Juneteenth until I was 44 years of age. It was never something that was celebrated during my years as a child.”

“In our country, even though we had a civil war, we had segregation. The whole social climate was different as far as celebrating holidays, and our communities were pretty separate. When I was a child, I lived in a predominantly black community, and communities were separated.”

“Black History Month was the thing that was celebrated. Juneteenth was talked about but it wasn’t really a recognizable event across this country with African Americans. I only started really seeing it, recognizing it, and it being celebrated probably 15 years ago.”

“Prior to that, I just don’t remember, but they started having celebrations. I’m going to say, 15 years here in Lansing they started celebrating it: they had a parade, a march. It was a collaborative effort where blacks in the city of Lansing will come together to celebrate. And now a movement to have African American traditions starts coming to the forefront.”

“A lot of traditions have come and gone. Some of them are not celebrated because some blacks move out of the urban area, once they can start buying property. And so their traditions change. Some of the blacks still live in urban areas, or the poor section of this country, you know, certain traditions stay there.”

So traditions depend on geography and time. It also sounds like in the ’60s there wasn’t much to celebrate and a lot to fight for. Is it fair to say so?

That’s a perfect analogy, exactly. There’s a documented history of what’s been documented about the events of the ’60s. But then there’s an undocumented history that never even makes it.

Is there a problem in the way people know history?

“I mean they’ll talk about George Washington, but very little education is dealing with African American history. But the conversations have always circulated in our communities. Even religious practices, like Muslims came here and they weren’t allowed to practice their religion: they were property, and they were treated more or less like livestock or tool. So I think a lot of our traditions were just stamped out.”

“In Akron [.. ] the undocumented history that you don’t know about is the atrocities that were committed by the National Guard. They murdered black people who were out past curfew, even if you would come home from work. If you got caught out past curfew, the documented history doesn’t tell you about the murdering of blacks by the National Guard, or the communities where a National Guard went through and kicked doors in and brutalized and raped people and all these different atrocities.”

[A case where it took 80 years to have official documents is the Tulsa Massacre]

Is it fair for white people to celebrate Juneteenth?

There’s people who are from different racial groups, but really when you put it all together is one big human family, regardless of where you’re from. I encourage people to participate in all kinds of celebrations and traditions, because that’s what creates this linchpin of stuff going on now. So yeah, I would encourage anybody. Because you gotta remember we’re in history right now. I live in a small community right now, which is not the most diverse community at all. It has a history of harboring hate groups, right in this community. But I can tell you what I’m witnessing is the youth here is way ahead of the game.”

What is changing now?

“I think with the kids, they have more exposure. The whole dynamic change about your perception is based on your exposure. Back during the ’50s and ’60s you only had maybe one black family here, they were terrorized and they end up moving. So you just have a different shift as far as these young kids haven’t [been terrorized]. Myself, who is perceived as imposing and threatening by the old standard: during the ’60s, I’m six foot two, I’m dark complected: now, these kids don’t even see that.”

“I think this country is going through a social change right now, they are the first group of people that are involved with black lives matter.”

“Also, the difference is that the law has shifted a little bit where they hold whites accountable for their behavior. On some level, it’s still not where it should be. But if I were to get beaten up today severely by law enforcement, there would be some accountability.  But don’t be mistaken, that doesn’t mean I can’t be murdered here: there are people here that probably would love to hurt me, but they know there’s some accountability for them doing that.”

“And so I think you’re going to see a major shift socially, and I’m hoping is a peaceful shift. But you’re definitely witnessing something right now that is eye opening.  Because like I can tell you as a child, I remember the marches. I remember the riots. But what is different about today is that it’s multifaceted. This group. You see protests all over the world. So that tells you something has socially shifted.”

Rispondi

Inserisci i tuoi dati qui sotto o clicca su un'icona per effettuare l'accesso:

Logo di WordPress.com

Stai commentando usando il tuo account WordPress.com. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Google photo

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Google. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto Twitter

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Twitter. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Foto di Facebook

Stai commentando usando il tuo account Facebook. Chiudi sessione /  Modifica )

Connessione a %s...