even Juneteenth was way premature

Yesterday was the 19th of June - "Juneteenth," but this is not yesterday's story.

The social and political geography may sound strange, but I first heard about this holiday while working in Boston 25 years ago. Barbara was a very strong and very generous white woman from El Paso, and she made the story very real for all of her office mates. I seriously envied her for experiences which seemed awfully exotic to a painfully-white midwestern male.

Only with the understanding gained from my own experiences since then have I been able to begin to understand that the announcement of June 19, 1865, was premature, and that it remains so today.

This Common Dreams/San Francisco Chronicle article by Joseph "Jazz" Hayden describes only one obstacle to liberation, but it's one which is just plain wrong, and it could be completely eliminated easily and quickly.

Today, many African Americans celebrate Juneteenth, the bittersweet anniversary of June 19, 1865, when the last remaining slaves were freed.

Some people assume that slavery in America died with President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. But Lincoln lacked the power to enforce his edict in the Confederate-controlled South, and slaveholders in remote states such as Texas continued to exploit their human chattel. For two and a half years, no one told the slaves that they were no longer a white man's property. Only when a regiment of Union soldiers arrived in Texas with news of slavery's demise -- and the power to back it up -- did Lincoln's promise to African Americans come true.

While this 138-year-old tale might at first seem like ancient history, echoes of Juneteenth resonate in the struggles people of color face today. Getting rights on paper, Juneteenth reminds us, is a far cry from getting them in practice.

That's what makes Juneteenth such a bittersweet holiday. On the one hand, it honors a great advance for African Americans -- gaining the rights of citizenship, especially the right to vote. But it also marks the beginning of an era in which whites imposed countless discriminatory laws, such as poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses, meant to keep blacks powerless.

Many of these overtly discriminatory state laws have been called out as racist and unconstitutional, and have been wiped from the books. But there is at least one notable exception: felony disenfranchisement laws.

The remainder of the piece describes the history and the narrow, racist application of these laws, which deprive 4.65 millions Americans of the right to vote.
Today, our "tough on crime" policies -- especially our draconian drug laws -- disproportionately target people of color. Only 14 percent of illegal drug users are black, but blacks make up 74 percent of those sentenced for drug possession. One in three black men will be jailed at some point.

This translates directly into loss of political power. Blacks are denied the vote because of criminal records five times more often than whites. Thirteen percent of African American men are permanently disenfranchised, and many more have temporarily lost their voting rights. Latinos are also disproportionately affected, given that 16 percent of Latino men will enter prison in their lifetime. This leaves communities of color vastly underrepresented in the political process.

Note that while in this article Hayden regularly refers to southern racism, the note at the bottom of the Common Dreams page shows that he is currently the chief plaintiff in a New York State civil lawsuit challenging felon disenfranchisement in my own, very northern jurisdiction.