Am I not a man and brother?
Ought I not, then, to be free?
Sell me not to one another,
Take not thus my liberty.
Christ our Savior, Christ our Savior,
Died for me as well as thee.
Am I not a man and brother?
Have I not a soul to save?
Oh, do not my spirit smother,
Making me a wretched slave;
God of mercy, God of mercy,
Let me fill a freeman's grave!
As I reflect over the words of the proclamation carried by General Granger, in 1865 to men and women in the state of Texas, these words standout to me. “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor" (General Order #3) Encapsulated in this order was the medicine needed for a racially sick country which held people as product. A country whose body was torn apart by a cancer of racism and revealed itself in a destructive Civil War. A change was moving throughout the nation and the answer to the question, “Am I not a man and brother” was to be answered.
General Order #3 announced you are “a man and a brother” by stating a change in relationship as the freedman and woman were to be viewed as possessing equality in terms of existence and ownership. We are unique and unrepeatable human beings. We are human beings marked with royalty and the potentiality to live remarkably. This is an absolute quality which can not be diminished by any legislation, incarceration, or dehumanization. Juneteenth marks a celebration in which the ears of black and white skinned human beings would hear an absolute truth, “You are equal.”
General Order #3 announced you are “a man and a brother” by stating a change in relationship between masters and slaves. Previous to the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation the relationship between these persons was one of White personhood and Black commodity. White personhood was able to participate freely in the economic, social, and political development of the small infantile nation. Whereas Black bodies were commodities, bought, trade, and sold to accomplish the development, cultivation, and sustainment of the new Egypt. Black bodies and White personhood related to one another in the form of a transaction in which White personhood extracted the emotional, physical, and spiritual capital from Black bodies to create a structure which would benefit the power of White Egypt. With the announcement on Juneteenth, Black bodies experienced a change of relationship as they heard they were qualitatively the same as their White counterparts. We are not commodities and cattle to be auctioned. We are creatures and a collective mass of human beings who can create, labor and earn a wage.
General Order #3 finally announced a change in relationship as participants in the market place. General Granger’s Order #3 impacts approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas according to Dr. Henry Louis Gates. The impact of a quarter of a million persons learning they would no longer be existing and functioning as free labor is without measure. Consider for a moment if 10% of these persons now have the opportunity to work, negotiate a price for labor, and receive compensation for that labor. The terms of slave and master begin to erode in Texas and the South for our common terms of employer and laborer. These persons now have the opportunity to function as laborers and dare we say new entrepreneurs who would lay the foundations for great enterprise efforts such Black Wall Street, Madame Cj Walker, and others. Our participation in the marketplace requires a reevaluation of our economic education and the support of more entrepreneurs who will own businesses and not simply patronize a business.
This qualitative change in relationship among Whites and Blacks, the labor context, and market place did not come without its challenges. There was and there would be opposition. Sharecropping, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow were all forms of opposition to the good news “We are human beings.” Opposition arises from those who benefit from the status quo. The beneficiaries of the status quo act out of fear over the loss of security, comfort, and affluence. Fear created the unjust economic practice of sharecropping. Fear created the inequitable practice of the Homestead Act in the which the federal government supported White brothers and sisters seeking to make a new life West while Black freedmen and women struggled to move freely with economic shackles still around their ankles. Yet it is the steady rain of heavenly plagues which begin to wash away the existing reality and reveal a fresh soil of new landscapes for many to enjoy.
We are men, women, brothers and sisters. Juneteenth only affirms what is already in each and everyone of us. We are powerful and remarkable image bearers of God. We are men and women who have a long lineage which does not begin in chains and the bowels of slave ships. Our lives begin on West African shores, North African landscapes, and in the shadow of great pyramids. We have the intellect of kings, queens, scientist, theologians, and entrepreneurs. Thus our relationship to one another should be one of persons who are actively pursuing opportunities and partnerships which uplift the wellbeing of one another. We have come from different families. We have ancestors from different plantations but we are here now…together. We are here now. And just as our forefathers and foremothers huddled together for comfort and courage in dark fields to sing praises to God in whose image they were made. We need to rally together around common economic interest to achieve economic goals for the common good. Leave this place with an commitment to find your way to improve the social, economic, political, and religious situation of your fellow African American brother and sister. But not only them…let us commit to being a people who provide such an influence to the state of Arkansas and our nation, all people will rise up and say with one loud voice…
“We are men. We are women. We are sisters. We are brothers. We will all die free.”