Community / Our Partners / Social Justice

Reflections on Juneteenth and Slavery’s Long Economic Shadow

fightfor15On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and all slaves were to be set free from chattel slavery. This day, known as Juneteenth, is the last official day of slavery in the United States—which occurred two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863.

In recognition of Juneteenth, Adler University students, faculty and staff in Chicago created an exhibition of posters to honor agents of change throughout history, including contemporary figures. Several student leaders from the Adler Black Student Association, Feminist Equality Alliance, and Latino/Hispanic Student Association took part in honoring icons who  have helped advance racial equity.

Camille Williamson, Director of Community Engagement, sees Juneteenth as a day to acknowledge the commitment and tenacity required in the fight for social justice—one that is invariably prone to delays and setbacks.

“People get burned out,” says Williamson. “That’s why it’s important for our students who want to work toward social justice to start with themselves; to examine their own histories and biases; to ask tough questions about what they believe about race, class, gender, orientation, etc. and why.  It takes courage to answer those questions honestly and unpack all of that, but it will keep you going when you get discouraged.  It is part of the journey that one can carry forward to ask complex and challenging questions about why things are the way they are and how people can work to create social change.”

Throughout campus, 22 posters featured notable figures like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Fred Hampton—each meant to inspire within the Adler community values of being selfless, taking action, being radical and facing known adversity.

In what will become an annual observance, the posters were displayed for several weeks and brought together for Adler’s annual Community Engagement Symposium, at which Adler community partner Arise Chicago gave a presentation on economic inequality and its ongoing Fight for $15 campaign.

Several contributors to the exhibit had participated in the Fight for $15 national day of action on April 15, demonstrating their commitment to social justice by courageously standing in solidarity with low-wage workers.

“Slavery was a racial and economic injustice,” says Jessica Vásquez, Adler’s Community Project Coordinator, explaining this year’s theme. “While slavery ended, its mechanisms of oppression through labor are still prevalent today. Racial discrimination and workplace segregation are still parts of the modern day workforce. In addition to discriminatory issues, many employers do not pay their workers a living wage. Many women and people of color who cannot secure jobs with living wages must accept low wage jobs. Thus, people are bound to poverty even as they remain in the work force.”