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Flynn: Thoughts on Juneteenth

06/19/09 5:55PM By Myra Mathis-Flynn
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(HOST) Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery way back in 1777 - but commentator Myra Flynn says that the observation of Juneteenth still offers food for thought - even here.

(FLYNN) Today is Juneteenth, an odd name for an odd holiday, with its origins in the emancipation of slaves in Galveston, Texas in 1865. Across the US and now worldwide, June 19th is when we observe - unofficially - African American Emancipation Day.

Lest I forget that I am not a slave here in Vermont with my rolling hills and winding rivers on our 94 acres of land - our 94 acres of land. Here not only am I not a slave, but my mother is an African American, female dean of a military college. Here my interracial family was mostly welcomed with open arms when we arrived in the 80's. Here my brown skin and curly hair are considered exotic and exciting. In Vermont, I am the anti-slave whose only job is to not only be free, but also to expect freedom for others no matter their skin color.

I would be lying if I didn't say that the occasional glance in the mirror, or racial slur screamed at me out of the back of a truck doesn't remind me that there are cultural differences even here. Slavery legally ended only 144 years ago. It ended the year "Alice in Wonderland" was published, the year the final design for the Confederate Flag was approved, and the year when Howard University, one of the first black colleges, was founded.

But I'm beginning to think that being culturally "different" is not only the norm here in Vermont but also something of an expectation. It's a place where my homosexual friends are now allowed to be married and Sudanese families stroll down Church Street on a summer's day right next to 10th generation Vermonters.  The point is, it can be tough to remember the tortures of slavery in such a beautiful and open minded state like Vermont.

And I'm not sure I need a one-day reminder of how far we have progressed since the days of slavery, since I'm a walking example of it. I celebrate my emancipation from slavery daily here in the beauty of Vermont, along with my emancipation from many other things that make our world ugly. Here, I am officially free.

Still, in case we forget, African American people - my people - were hung, beaten, raped, traded, bought and owned. While I'm told that's all in the past and should be treated as such, Juneteenth is upon us, telling us it's time to remember.

So I say, happy June 19th, 20th, 21st and beyond.
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