Nothing embodies core American ideals quite like the release from bondage. That’s what we say we’re for, right?
This year marks our second year with Juneteenth as a federal holiday. The celebration of the final emancipation announcement to remaining slaves in 1865 is still getting its sea legs.
Since it’s official, Mobile could do better with the holiday than a beauty pageant and some tours. After all, the holiday has Gulf Coast origins.
Our culture should honor the day but instill it with a specifically fitting tradition. Think along the lines of attempts to brand Martin Luther King’s Birthday a “Day of Service.” Community-building sentiment is well needed in a nation that seems to be replacing our worn edges with barbed wire nowadays.
Emancipation’s appreciation should be nearly instinctive. No one wants enslavement. Whether extant or historic, it is a barbarous human frailty.
My initial grade school reading of Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” gobsmacked me. It made the evident more obvious.
“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim,” Douglass wrote.
Having empathy for Douglass’ perspective doesn’t make someone else — say, a less melanin-gifted person — lesser for it. It doesn’t make you soft or weak. Humans are inherently social. We are better together.
My Caucasian classification also afforded me insight some don’t get. I’ve witnessed remarks passed when the melanin-challenged assume all the pale faces around them represent a sole mindset. The low tones, knowing glances and mumbled asides that pass on salty thoughts — it’s both tedious and offensive.
That means I’ve heard commentary of Juneteenth as “a Black holiday.” Not so. Such perspective assumes belief in enslavement doesn’t also harm the person who enforces it, that they don’t slaughter part of their own humanity by inflicting misery. There’s a liberation on their end, too, if they acknowledge it.
Ultimately, Juneteenth is for all of us. It is a step forward for the whole culture. It is growth, part of the “more perfect union.” It commemorates advancement toward our stated ideals.
Mobile’s rise from burgeoning frontier town to King Cotton focal point gives it a closer relationship to the holiday than most. Captive hands gathered primary resources, processed, loaded and unloaded them, as the wealth they created flowed through the port. Mobile’s fortunes were built on slavery’s foundation.
Plus, the Clotilda saga. Once the $1.3 million Africatown Heritage House Museum is opened on the far side of this hurricane season, it should become a central component of local Juneteenth observations. There’s ample grassy acreage at the adjacent Robert Hope Community Center that could be implemented.
This year’s blazing weather underscores potential pitfalls, especially added to our capacity for showers. If we’re to build on our unique opportunities for singular cultural cachet, it will take careful planning.
Montgomery’s Equal Justice Initiative acquired truckloads of money — a building full of lawyers has its advantages — to build a truly world-class memorial and museum complex. If our locals are going to curry comparison to it, they best measure up. Down here, these goals will take something more precious than cash. It will require a community that quells factionalism and operates together.
The Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed (MOJO) are completing their first half-year of renewed monthly events with the talents of a New Orleans favorite-turned-Mobile Bay saxophonist, Rebecca Barry. Her robust and layered musical instincts take her from swaggering declarations to angular explorations, then maybe wrap it with a delicate pianissimo hook. Those chops earned her an Offbeat Magazine Readers’ Choice Award for several years. While in the Crescent City, Barry played with the Head Hunters, Michael Clark, Paul Jackson, Ellis Marsalis, Michael Pellera, David Torkanosky, Leigh Harris, Wynton Marsalis, Kermit Ruffins and Terry Lynn Carrington, among others.
Gino Rosaria, Josh Titford and David White join Barry at Club 601 at The Elks (601 State St.) on June 27, 6:30 p.m. Entrance is $15, $10 for MOJO members. A cash bar and food service are available.
Those who haven’t been to the historic site in years will find everything they treasured — the atmosphere, authenticity and comfort — but with structural enhancements. Owners countered the touch of Mobile’s harsh weather.
Anyone seeking the ambiance of a jazz club should circle this on the calendar. It’s your regular monthly shot at it.
For more information, go to mobilejazz.org or call 251-459-2298.
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