Juneteenth—So Much More To Do
In honor of Juneteenth, Chris Dupuy writes about Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color line in 1947, and how we still have a long way to go to overcome inequality.
As a kid, I read a lot of books about baseball. (Full disclosure, I still do.)
Among my early favorites were stories about Willie Mays and Henry Aaron. Typically, their biographies offered a chapter or two on their upbringing in the Negro Leagues, around the time Jackie Robinson was breaking the color barrier and integrating Major League Baseball. The chronology would continue through the early years of their careers, noting some of the indignities the two future Hall of Famers suffered at the hands of segregation, particularly when playing in the southern states.
Jackie Robinson in his Brooklyn Dodgers Uniform, 1950. (photo, public domain)
The idea of separate hotels and restaurants for black players made no sense to me as a child. Learning about teammates and fans who hated these players simply for the color of their skin was shocking and something that seven-year-old me was eager to believe had long been left in the past.
I began reading those books fifty years ago. I’ve since learned that those stories barely scratched the surface of the atrocities faced by Willie and Hank and countless others, not to mention that such racism was certainly not restricted to the southern states or the decades of the ’40s and ’50s.
What a wonderful world it would be if only my naive understanding of progress against hate all those years ago represented our shared reality today.
I got to thinking about progress in the world—and lack thereof—because today is Juneteenth. I believe there is a lot of good in our having created a federal holiday that recognizes Juneteenth and the freeing of slaves over a hundred years ago. Maybe one day the traditions of Juneteenth will include things like feasts, fireworks, and festive parades. But today, perhaps, the best example of the good that accompanies Juneteenth is that it gets people thinking.
And we still have such a long way to go.
Perhaps, the best example of the good that accompanies Juneteenth is that it gets people thinking. … And we still have such a long way to go.
I am proud to live in this country, despite all the warts and wrongs that can be so visible every time we turn on our televisions. I’m proud that we recognize Juneteenth with a federal holiday, just as I will be proud on the 4th of July for what it represents to me with respect to the history of America. But such pride will not prevent me from recognizing the important truth that IS Juneteenth—the truth about a time in our country’s history that none of us should be proud of.
And there remains so much to do before we can truly say all Americans are treated equally.
At the same time, I can’t help feeling a bit conflicted. Shouldn’t we be proud that Juneteenth also celebrates a time in our country’s history when steps were taken to correct a serious wrong? At the same time, it saddens me to think that, over eighty years after Lincoln “freed the slaves,” black Americans were still barred from playing Major League Baseball. And that seventy-five years after Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers there remains an uneven playing field for women and people of color trying to enjoy the opportunities that should be available to all in this great nation of ours.
I benefit from white male privilege. I can’t apologize for how I was born, but I’m no longer in denial that my race and my gender has contributed to many advantages I’ve had throughout my life. I thank my two daughters, now in their twenties and with a different perspective on the world than I had at their age, for opening my eyes and helping me to better understand such stark truths, because, as the old saying goes, you cannot solve a problem until you are ready to admit one actually exists.
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And that is another thing that gives me hope for the future on Juneteenth. Not just that today we live in a country where we can honor the emancipation of the unjustly enslaved with a federal holiday, but that hopefully my generation is giving way to future generations that won’t allow such prejudice and hate to be a part of the fabric of everyday life.
And as that transformation takes place in our society, one can only hope that those of us who have benefitted from how things used to be can take a stand to ensure that what used to be won’t continue to be.
For starters, we can observe, honor, and respect Juneteenth. With solemn admiration for all those who have persevered and fought fearlessly for change, sometimes through something as simple as pursuing their passions on a baseball diamond.
I’ve used the expression “Happy Juneteenth” on a number of occasions today. Each time the word “happy” has seemed out of place. I’m not sure how to remedy that. Maybe by being happy that, thanks to Juneteenth, another step forward for progress in the face of racism and hate has been taken?
But let’s not light the barbecues and fireworks just yet. There is so much more to do.