This story was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, a non-profit journalism organization.
Dating back thousands of years, the anniversary was a momentous celebration, a year to give back lands, forgive debts, and free enslaved people. Heralded by the loud sound of a ram’s horn, Bible scholars note, the Jubilee year was founded on the idea of liberty and orchestrated an economic, cultural, and moral reorganization of society. It is fitting, therefore, that June 16 is often referred to as the anniversary day.
In January 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery and declared “all persons held as slaves” “free forever”. But it wasn’t until two years later, on June 19, 1865, that news of liberation finally reached the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas. June 16, sometimes called Black Independence Day or Freedom Day, honors this indeed end of slavery.
In a way, the Emancipation Proclamation acted as Black Americans’ first and only jubilee — in fact, “jubilee” is what formerly enslaved people called the period that followed the Civil War. Abolition ended an entire economy of exploited labor that essentially built the modern capitalist world. But the Emancipation Proclamation went further than requiring Confederate states simply to recognize the abolition of slavery – it also directed the United States government to “preserve” the liberty of formerly enslaved people and “to take no action or actions to oppress such persons” or “any” effort they may make for their actual freedom.” Today, in flagrant contradiction to the instructions of President Abraham Lincoln, the government still sanctions and facilitates the oppression of black people.
Stock tenure, convict leasing, medical racism, mass incarceration, police, and other racist institutions locked Black Americans in cycles of debt bondage, forced labor, and suffering. Forced to fund public goods and their own incarceration through debt, Black people bear the brunt of student, medical, and criminal debt. For-profit colleges, hospitals, police departments, and the industrial prison complex are all (literally) banking on their plans to indebted black communities. Just a decade ago, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, racist housing practices and job losses wiped out more than half of black wealth.
As a result, the gap between black and white home ownership is wider today than it was over 50 years ago. From the Three-Fifths Compromise to prison and racial maneuvers, politicians have repeatedly stripped black political power and made voting rights for black Americans weaker than they were in 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was first passed. The scourge of gun violence and the school-to-jail pipeline have stolen the future of black children. Black girls are disappearing at a ruthless rate, and black trans women have a life expectancy about the age required for president: 35. If you’re black, your odds of being incarcerated increase almost fivefold. If you are a black woman in New York City, you are eight times more likely to die in childbirth. Unfortunately, Black Americans make up 13% of the US population and 40% of those on death row.