As someone who writes a lot about slavery in history, until fairly recently, I never associated slavery with financial bondage. This past week, many members of the African American community and others celebrated Juneteenth.  Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865—the day that slaves in Texas officially received news of their freedom. This was a full two-and-a-half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation  Proclamation. Since that time, a number of African Americans have been celebrating this day as Emancipation Day. It is a commemoration that is growing in popularity with  physician and preacher, Dr. Ronald Myers and  many statewide Juneteeth commissions around the country at the forefront of the movement to promote Juneteenth as a national holiday.
The celebration this week in Binghamton and elsewhere  got me thinking about what it must have been like for those African Americans who had waited and struggled so hard for their freedom only to find out 2 and half years later that they were already free.  It got me thinking that just as with Juneteenth, sometimes freedom comes in phases.  Sometimes, freedom, as per the poet Langston Hughes, is like a dream deferred. When I think of challenges in the Black community today, many things come to mind but not the least of which is the issue of finances.  To be sure, even in these tough times,  there is  still a strong Black middle class and a subsection of folks who are very well off financially.  There exists, however, still far too many living on the edge or below the poverty line.

Today, I am standing with Pastor DeForest Soaries Jr. whose book, D-FREE:Breaking Free from Financial Slavery, has literally become a movement within the black community.   In this book, he likens physical shackles to both spiritual and financial shackles.  Yes, he is extremely concerned about the systemic changes that need to take place in American society particularly in the areas of education and criminal justice;  yes, he is deeply knowledgeable of the limits of institutionalized racism, yet he has also made a conscious decision to focus on what he and other members of the community can change.  His book which is full of his own personal stories as well as those of his family and his church shows that burdensome debt (not asset based debt) is in many ways like slavery. It keeps you in bondage and keeps dreams at bay.

Like the Black Texans who were free but waiting for the official news, debt can keep you operating at a very low level because as we say in Jamaica, it ties your foot.  It’s a burden that keeps many from home ownership, from building up education funds, or even establishing emergency funds for the family.  Most of all, it can cut off the ability to dream…to move beyond the boundaries set by others and even yourself.

For example, he tells an excellent story of a woman who had a  job and was working hard but also was struggling to make ends meet.  She got a parking ticket and did not have the cash to pay it right away; she delayed paying it because of other mounting bills and then her license got suspended. A suspended license meant that she lost her job because she needed her car to get to her job. Counseling resources at the church as well as enrollment in the debt free program eventually got her my back on her feet but it was not overnight.At the same time, he contrasted this situation with his grandmother who had a sixth grade education but always had money to lend – often money she kept in her stockings and would bring out just at the right time. In so many ways, Soaries is encouraging members of the Black community to look back and look forward to ask themselves if they are really living out their freedom.

So freedom has been won, freedom has been given, but for freedom to be fully experienced –it may be that one part of the journey is to get debt free.
Powerful message and a powerful way in which the memory of the past, in this case, Juneteenth, can be helpful to many in the present.
Anne C. Bailey
New Book:  The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History (forthcoming, Fall, 2017, Cambridge University Press)
Picture:  Dr. Ronald Myers, Juneteenth movement


On these Shoulders I Stand

I am introducing a new segment which from time to time will be pictures and anecdotes of people whose journey has made my journey possible.

I sometimes prefer to skip the pomp and circumstance but  l must say that I love the graduation ceremony of my university.  This is a picture of this year’s event in which I and other faculty members processed together in celebration of our graduates.

Today I am standing on the shoulders of Anna J. Cooper, advocate for education and equal rights for African Americans from the post slavery period to the civil rights era. She was also author of the pioneering, A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South. (1892)

In 1925, at the age of sixty-seven, Cooper became one of the first African American women to obtain a Doctorate of Philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris.

I only found out recently that her words are quoted on the current US Passport: “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.” 

Congratulations Class of 2017 and

Anna J. Cooper, thank you.
On the Lighter Side…
OK, so you have heard of Superman, and you have heard of Spiderman, but Hammerman?  Really?  Who is Hammerman?  Shortlived
Superhero of the 90’s based on rapper turned preacher, M.C. Hammer who went around solving crimes with the help of his magical church shoes.  Sorry I missed this one!


In Memoriam
Philando Castile, born in St. Louis Missouri in 1983; shot and killed at a traffic stop July 6, 2016 in the company of his daughter and her mother.  He was up to the time of his death a nutrition services assistant at Chelsea Heights Elementary School in the Saint Paul Public School district in Minnesota. He was beloved by children and adults alike.


Rest in peace.



Find Anne C. Bailey's non-fiction book : The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History on Amazon.

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