Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Judge rules Louisiana must remove youth from Angola

A federal judge Friday ordered Louisiana prison officials to stop housing youth offenders in the former death row of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and to relocate them within one week.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick of the Middle District of Louisiana found that conditions at Angola constitute cruel and unusual punishment and violate the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The ruling was the culmination of a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed last year after Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the state would start sending children to Angola because six juveniles had escaped from the Bridge City Center for Youth. 

At the time, Edwards said the transfers to Angola were temporary while officials worked on renovations and improvements at another juvenile correctional facility.

In Friday’s verbal ruling, Dick noted the state broke promises it made last year during a September 2022 court hearing that the youths wouldn’t face punishment during their confinement, according to an ACLU press release. 

The judge found that prison officials locked the juveniles in cells for days at a time and punished them with the use of handcuffs, pepper spray and denial of family visits. The state failed to provide adequate staffing, including licensed social workers or professional counselors, appropriate education and necessary mental health treatment or social services, according to Dick.

“Now, it is time for Louisiana’s leaders to provide the appropriate care and support so all children can thrive and reach their full potential,” said David Utter, the ACLU’s lead counsel. “We demand investment in our children, not punishment. State officials must address the long-standing, systemic failures in Louisiana’s juvenile justice system. A state where all our children — Black, brown and white — have equal access to opportunity is possible.” 

There was no immediate response from the governor’s office in response to Dick’s ruling.

Advocates for incarcerated youth hailed the ruling and called on Edwards and the state Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) to address its shortcomings.

Antonio Travis, youth organizing manager with Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, said in a statement it was “shameful” that it took a lawsuit to force officials to remove the youth from Angola. He stressed the need for the state to take a holistic approach to juvenile justice as called for under state law approved two decades ago.

Our ineffective over-reliance on youth prisons has proven time and again that punitive measures don’t work and don’t foster rehabilitation,” Travis said. “We must recommit to an approach that invests in community based-alternatives, including mental health and mentorship programs, to provide youth with opportunities and a future outside of prison walls.

“Today’s ruling is a step in the right direction, but it isn’t actually progress; it’s simply regaining what we lost last year when the Governor decided to send kids to Angola. There is much more work to be done in order to truly reform this broken system.”

The state Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) issued the following statement Friday afternoon:

Last year, after a series of high-profile and violent incidents at OJJ facilities, the office of Juvenile Justice temporarily repurposed a facility on the grounds of Louisiana State Penitentiary as a transitional treatment facility for high-risk youth. The decision was not made lightly but with inadequate space at existing OJJ facilities, immediate action was necessary to protect the youth, staff, and surrounding communities. OJJ has taken extraordinary measures to ensure the temporary West Feliciana Facility complies with state and federal law requiring the youth to continue receiving education classes, have suitable living conditions, and be completely separated from any adult inmates. The West Feliciana Facility has allowed us to keep community members, staff, and youth in our care safe, but the plan has always been to close the temporary facility as soon as possible and move the high-risk youth upon completion of the new Swanson secure care facility, which is scheduled to open later this year. While we disagree with the court’s ruling today and will be seeking an emergency writ, we will continue to explore every option available to us that ensures the safety of staff, community members, and youth in our care.”

This article originally appeared in The Louisiana Illuminator on September 8th, 2023.  

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Thursday, September 7, 2023

Cop City Protesters Arrested After Chaining Themselves to Construction Equipment

"This movement cannot be won with a ballot alone; we must organize together for mass direct actions if we want to have a chance at protecting our community and saving our planet," said one of those arrested.

Five "Stop Cop City" demonstrators, including faith leaders, were arrested Thursday morning after chaining themselves to construction equipment at Atlanta's proposed Public Safety Training Center just outside of city limits in DeKalb County, Georgia.

The arrestees are Rev. Jeff Jones, a Unitarian Universalist volunteer community minister; Rev. David Dunn, a Unitarian Universalist minister; Ayeola Omolara Kaplan, an Atlanta-based revolutionary artist; Atlanta resident Lalita Martin; and Georgia resident Timothy Sullivan, according to the Atlanta Community Press Collective.

The Atlanta Police Department (APD) said in a statement that "those five people have been taken into custody and we are working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation regarding charges on these individuals. Around this same time, approximately 25 people gathered outside the site to protest."

Protesters were arrested in Georgia on September 7, 2023. (Photo: Atlanta Police Department)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionreported that protesters outside the construction site of the contested 85-acre facility chanted "Cop City will never be built."

Photos shared on social media showed demonstrators carrying signs that said "#StopCopCity," "No Cop City on Stolen Land," and "The People's Injunction: Stop Work Order."

A notice protesters posted on metal fencing said that the people were shutting down the project for violations including "destruction of a forest, destruction of the public trust, polluting Intrenchment Creek, violating the will of the community, undermining the democratic process."

"We have tried to get justice in the courts, we have tried to get justice using our politicians, and unfortunately, they have betrayed and failed us," said Mary Hooks of the Movement for Black Lives, according to the AJC. "So when our government systems fail, that is when the people must stand up and take action."

"Anytime somebody puts their bodies on the line for the cause," added Hooks, "it was worth the risk."

The "people's injunction" to halt construction came after Georgia Republican Attorney General Chris Carr announced Tuesday that a grand jury indicted 61 Stop Cop City protesters under the state's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Omolara Kaplan, one of the demonstrators arrested Thursday, said in a statement that "there is a war happening against protesters. If we don't stand up for our right to protest now, standing up in the future will be in vain. Cop City is in the process of being built and this can only continue if we allow it."

The protester also highlighted an effort by Cop City opponents to collect signatures for an Atlanta referendum to block the project—and the pushback from political leadership in the city, such as a related verification process that critics have denounced as a form of voter suppression.

"As Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens fights against our right to stop Cop City via the ballot, we must continue our struggle to stop the project with direct actions like sit-ins, boycotts, and blockades," said Omolara Kaplan. "This movement cannot be won with a ballot alone; we must organize together for mass direct actions if we want to have a chance at protecting our community and saving our planet."

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61 “Stop Cop City” activists hit with racketeering charges

Atlanta organizers allege that this is the latest installment in the ongoing state repression against the movement to stop “Cop City” from being built

September 06, 2023 by Natalia Marques

On September 5, the Georgia Attorney General’s office announced that 61 activists opposing the construction of a multi-million dollar police training facility in Atlanta have been hit with racketeering charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). 

Atlanta residents have been fighting the proposed construction of a massive police training facility to be built on part of the region’s largest urban forests since 2021. Protesters allege that the training facility, dubbed “Cop City”, would hone the repressive tactics of the US police force and that it would contribute to increased repression against social movements, Black and Brown communities, and the working class as a whole. A mass movement has emerged in the city utilizing a diverse array of tactics including marches, forest occupations, direct action, and arts and culture.

The Atlanta Police Foundation and the state apparatus of Georgia have been attempting to subdue this movement every step of the way. The defendant list itself is a record of months of legal repression against the Stop Cop City movement. 42 out of the 61 defendants were previously charged with domestic terrorism. Defendants also include three activists who were charged with money laundering as a result of running a bail fund for arrested activists, a legal observer who was put in jail for monitoring protests, and three activists who were arrested for handing out flyers with the name of a police officer connected to the police killing of fellow protester Tortuguita.

“These charges are yet another flimsy and desperate attempt by the state government to crush the movement against police terror in Atlanta,” Stop Cop City activist Mariah Parker told Peoples Dispatch. “It shows that they have learned nothing in the course of this struggle: each time they have tried to snuff us out, we have emerged stronger and more organized. This will be no different.” 

While the charges were filed last week, the date listed on all indictments is May 25, 2020. This was the day that unarmed Black man George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight by police officer Derek Chauvin, a killing that ignited a summer of the largest anti-police brutality protests in the United States to date. Prosecutors are tracing the actions of anti-Cop City protesters, who they label as “militant anarchists,” to the 2020 anti-racist protests—despite the fact that the Stop Cop City movement began in 2021.

As the Atlanta Community Press Collective reported, “In previous bond hearings for Stop Cop City defendants, prosecutors with the Georgia Attorney General’s Office have tried to link the George Floyd Uprisings to the Stop Cop City movement.”

“The Cop City RICO indictments allege the date when George Floyd was murdered by the police as the start of the ‘racketeering enterprise,’” wrote Atlanta-based activist and founder of Community Movement Builders Kamau Franklin. “The day a movement to abolish the police took on new life is the day for them a criminal enterprise was born.”

“This is a further attempt to criminalize a movement against police violence,” Franklin told Peoples Dispatch. “There is no basis in law to bring these charges. It is simply a scare tactic by the State and city against organizers.”

“It’s very clear that all levels of government in Georgia are committed to the same project that birthed the cop city proposal—absolutely stamping out any sort of radical movement against police brutality and this racist system,” Monica Johnson, Stop Cop City activist and anti-police brutality organizer told Peoples Dispatch. “This repression is part of the legacy of COINTELPRO, of trying to sever the ties between the community and organizers so people can’t envision a different type of life, one where our needs are met and we are not terrorized by the police.”

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Monday, August 21, 2023

What’s happening in Niger is far from a typical coup

The recent wave of coups in West Africa must be understood in the context of widespread discontent with the ruling elites and their collaboration with imperialism
August 15, 2023 by Vijay Prashad
On July 26, 2023, Niger’s presidential guard moved against the sitting president—Mohamed Bazoum—and conducted a coup d’état. A brief contest among the various armed forces in the country ended with all the branches agreeing to the removal of Bazoum and the creation of a military junta led by Presidential Guard Commander General Abdourahamane “Omar” Tchiani. This is the fourth country in the Sahel region of Africa to have experienced a coup—the other three being Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali. The new government announced that it would stop allowing France to leech Niger’s uranium (one in three lightbulbs in France is powered by the uranium from the field in Arlit, northern Niger). Tchiani’s government revoked all military cooperation with France, which means that the 1,500 French troops will need to start packing their bags (as they did in both Burkina Faso and Mali). Meanwhile, there has been no public statement about Airbase 201, the US facility in Agadez, a thousand kilometers from the country’s capital of Niamey. This is the largest drone base in the world and key to US operations across the Sahel. US troops have been told to remain on the base for now and drone flights have been suspended. The coup is certainly against the French presence in Niger, but this anti-French sentiment has not enveloped the US military footprint in the country.


Hours after the coup was stabilized, the main Western states—especially France and the United States—condemned the coup and asked for the reinstatement of Bazoum, who was immediately detained by the new government. But neither France nor the United States appeared to want to lead the response to the coup. Earlier this year, the French and US governments worried about an insurgency in northern Mozambique that impacted the assets of the Total-Exxon natural gas field off the coastline of Cabo Delgado. Rather than send in French and US troops, which would have polarized the population and increased anti-Western sentiment, the French and the United States made a deal for Rwanda to send its troops into Mozambique. Rwandan troops entered the northern province of Mozambique and shut down the insurgency. Both Western powers seem to favor a “Rwanda” type solution to the coup in Niger, but rather than have Rwanda enter Niger the hope was for ECOWAS—the Economic Community of West African States—to send in its force to restore Bazoum.

A day after the coup, ECOWAS condemned the coup. ECOWAS encompasses fifteen West African states, which in the past few years has suspended Burkina Faso and Mali from their ranks because of the coups in that country; Niger was also suspended from ECOWAS a few days after the coup. Formed in 1975 as an economic bloc, the grouping decided—despite no mandate in its original mission—to send in peacekeeping forces in 1990 into the heart of the Liberian Civil War. Since then, ECOWAS has sent its peacekeeping troops to several countries in the region, including Sierra Leone and Gambia. Not long after the coup in Niger, ECOWAS placed an embargo on the country that included suspending its right to basic commercial transactions with its neighbors, freezing Niger’s central bank assets that are held in regional banks, and stopping foreign aid (which comprises forty percent of Niger’s budget). The most striking statement was that ECOWAS would take “all measures necessary to restore constitutional order.” An August 6 deadline given by ECOWAS expired because the bloc could not agree to send troops across the border. ECOWAS asked for a “standby force” to be assembled and ready to invade Niger. Then, ECOWAS said it would meet on August 12 in Accra, Ghana, to go over its options. That meeting was canceled for “technical reasons.” Mass demonstrations in key ECOWAS countries—such as Nigeria and Senegal—against an ECOWAS military invasion of Niger have confounded their own politicians to support an intervention. It would be naïve to suggest that no intervention is possible. Events are moving very fast, and there is no reason to suspect that ECOWAS will not intervene before August ends.

Coups in the Sahel

When ECOWAS suggested the possibility of an intervention into Niger, the military governments in Burkina Faso and Mali said that this would be a “declaration of war” not only against Niger but also against their countries. On August 2, one of the key leaders of the Niger coup, General Salifou Mody traveled to Bamako (Mali) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) to discuss the situation in the region and to coordinate their response to the possibility of an ECOWAS—or Western—military intervention into Niger. Ten days later, General Moussa Salaou Barmou went to Conakry (Guinea) to seek that country’s support for Niger from the leader of the military government in that country, Mamadi Doumbouya. Suggestions have already been floated for Niger—one of the most important countries in the Sahel—to form part of the conversation of a federation that will include Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali. This would be a federation of countries that have had coups to overthrow what have been seen to be pro-Western governments that have not met the expectations of increasingly impoverished populations.

The story of the coup in Niger becomes partly the story of what the communist journalist Ruth First called “the contagion of the coup” in her remarkable book, The Barrel of the Gun: Political Power in Africa and the Coup d’états (1970). Over the course of the past thirty years, politics in the Sahel countries has seriously desiccated. Parties with a history in the national liberation movements, even the socialist movements (such as Bazoum’s party) have collapsed into being representatives of their elites, who are conduits of a Western agenda. The French-US-NATO war in Libya in 2011 allowed jihadis groups to pour out of Libya and flock into southern Algeria and into the Sahel (almost half of Mali is held by al-Qaeda-linked formations). The entry of these forces gave the local elites and the West the justification to further tighten limited trade union freedoms and to excise the left from the ranks of the established political parties. It is not as if the leaders of the mainline political parties are right-wing or center-right, but that whatever their orientation, they have no real independence from the will of Paris and Washington. They became—to use a word on the ground—“stooges” of the West.

Absent any reliable political instruments, the discarded rural and petty-bourgeois sections of the country turn to their children in the armed forces for leadership. People like Burkina Faso’s Captain Ibrahim Traoré (born 1988), who was raised in the rural province of Mouhoun, and Colonel Assimi Goïta (born 1988), who comes from the cattle market town and military redoubt of Kati, represent these broad class fractions perfectly. Their communities have been utterly left out of the hard austerity programs of the International Monetary Fund, of the theft of their resources by Western multinationals, and of the payments for Western military garrisons in the country. Discarded populations with no real political platform to speak for them, these communities have rallied behind their young men in the military. These are “Colonel’s Coups”—coups of ordinary people who have no other options—not “General’s Coups”—coups of the elites to stem the political advancement of the people. That is why the coup in Niger is being defended in mass rallies from Niamey to the small, remote towns that border Libya. When I traveled to these regions before the pandemic, it was clear that the anti-French sentiment found no channel of expression other than hope for a military coup that would bring in leaders such as Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, who had been assassinated in 1987. Captain Traoré, in fact, sports a red beret like Sankara, speaks with Sankara’s left-wing frankness, and even mimics Sankara’s diction. It would be a mistake to see these men as from the left since they are moved by anger at the failure of the elites and of Western policy. They do not come to power with a well-worked out agenda built from left political traditions.

The Niger military leaders have formed a twenty-one-person cabinet headed by Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, a civilian who had been a finance minister in a previous government and worked at the African Development Bank in Chad. Military leaders are prominent in the cabinet. Whether the appointment of this civilian-led cabinet will divide the ranks of ECOWAS is to be seen. Certainly, Western imperialist forces—notably the United States with troops on the ground in Niger—would not like to see this torque of coups remain in place. Europe—through French leadership—had shifted the borders of their continent from north of the Mediterranean Sea to south of the Sahara Desert, suborning the Sahel states into a project known as G-5 Sahel. Now with anti-French governments in three of these states (Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger) and with the possibility of trouble in the two remaining states (Chad and Mauritania), Europe will have to retreat to its coastline. Sanctions to deplete the mass support of the new governments will increase, and the possibility of military intervention will hang over the region like a famished vulture.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of US Power.

This article was produced by Globetrotter

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Monday, June 19, 2023

Juneteenth, Jim Crow and how the fight of one Black Texas family to make freedom real offers lessons for Texas lawmakers trying to erase history from the classroom

By Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, Sam Houston State University and Zachary Montz, Sam Houston State University

The news was startling.

On June 19, 1865, two months after the U.S. Civil War ended, Union Gen. Gordon Granger walked onto the balcony at Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas, and announced to the people of the state that “all slaves are free.”

As local plantation owners lamented the loss of their most valuable property, Black Texans celebrated Granger’s Juneteenth announcement with singing, dancing and feasting. The 182,566 enslaved African Americans in Texas had finally won their freedom.

One of them was Joshua Houston.

He had long served as the enslaved servant of Gen. Sam Houston, the most well-known military and political leader in Texas.

Joshua Houston lived about 120 miles north of Galveston when he learned of Granger’s proclamation.

It was read aloud at the local Methodist Church in Huntsville, Texas, by Union Gen. Edgar M. Gregory, the assistant commissioner for the Freedmen’s Bureau in Texas.

If Juneteenth meant anything, it meant at least that Joshua Houston and his family were free.

A gray haired black man in the center wearing glasses is sitting down and surrounded by members of his family.
Joshua Houston and his family in October 1898. Courtesy of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum and Republic of Texas Presidential Library, Huntsville, Texas

But there was more too.

The promise of freedom meant that more work needed to be done. Families needed to be reunited. Land needed to be secured. Children needed to be educated.

Indeed, the radical promise of Juneteenth is embodied in the community activism of Joshua Houston and the educational career of his son Samuel Walker Houston.

The violent white reaction to Black political power

Within a year of Granger’s proclamation, Houston had established a blacksmith shop near the Huntsville town square and moved his family into a two-story house on the adjoining lot.

He helped found the Union Church, the first Black-owned institution in the city, as well as a freedmen’s school to begin educating African American children.

In 1878 and 1882, a Republican coalition of Black and white voters opposed to conservative Democratic rule elected Houston as the county’s first Black county commissioner, a powerful position in local governance.

Despite this dramatic turn of events, Houston’s political story was hardly unique.

In the two decades following emancipation, 52 Black men served in the state Legislature or the state’s constitutional conventions.

But that number had fallen to two by 1882.

Opposition to Black freedom had been a powerful force in the state’s political culture since emancipation.

Armstead Barrett, a former slave in Huntsville, recalled in 1937 that an enraged white man had reacted to Granger’s Juneteenth order by riding past a celebrating Black woman and murdering her with his sword.

In 1871, the violence continued when the white citizens of Huntsville stormed the county courthouse and aided the escape of three men who had lynched freedman Sam Jenkins.

Later, in the 1880s, attacks on Black elected officials, their white political allies and Black voters escalated dramatically.

In the early 1900s, changes in state election laws, including the introduction of the poll tax, effectively disenfranchised most Black voters and many poor whites as well. Voter participation dropped from roughly 85% at the high tide of Texas populism in 1896 to roughly 35% when the poll tax became effective in 1904.

As a result, Robert Lloyd Smith was the last Black legislator for nearly 70 years when he finished his term in 1897.

That wall of white supremacy at the state Capitol would not crack again until 1966, when federal voting rights legislation and Supreme Court rulings nullified schemes to deny African Americans the ballot.

These changes enabled the election of Black officials such as Barbara Jordan, the first African American woman to serve in the Texas Senate.

Like father, like son

On an unknown date, a few years after Juneteenth, Joshua Houston’s son Samuel Walker Houston was born free in the bright light of Reconstruction.

Although he spent his adulthood in some of the darkest years of Jim Crow, he continued his father’s work as an educator and community leader. Following a short stint at Atlanta University in Georgia and Howard University in Washington, D.C., Samuel Walker Houston returned to Huntsville and founded a school in the nearby Galilee community.

Houston’s school was named for him and served as one of the first county training schools for African Americans in Texas. It enrolled students at every level, from first grade through high school, and provided a curriculum based on Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee model of vocational training.

Young women at Houston’s school received training in homemaking, sewing and cooking, while young men learned carpentry, woodworking and mathematics.

By 1922, enrollment at the school had grown to 400 students, and it was recognized by contemporaries as the leading school of East Texas. In the 1930s, Houston’s school was absorbed into Huntsville’s school district, and he became the director of Black education in the county.

In this black and white image, seven men stand outside a residential-style building with sawhorses and stacked lumber off to the side.
This 1919 photograph shows officials laying the foundation for a new building at the Samuel Walker Houston Training School. Jackson Davis Collection of African American Educational Photographs, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library

Houston encouraged a practical education for Black Texans, but he also believed that young Texans of all races needed to learn an account of history that differed from the white supremacist narrative that dominated Southern history.

Toward this end, he joined with Joseph Clark and Ramsey Woods, two white professors who pioneered race relations courses at Sam Houston State Teachers College. Together, the group led the Texas Commission on Interracial Cooperation’s effort to evaluate Texas public school textbooks during the 1930s.

In an analysis of racial attitudes in state-endorsed textbooks, they found that 74% of books presented a racist view of the past and of Black Americans. Most excluded the scientific, literary and civic contributions of Black people, while mentioning their economic contributions only in the period of slavery before the Civil War.

Instead, the group argued, books designed for both Black and white Texans needed to take the “opportunity … to do simple justice” by including Black history and the “struggle for the exercise” of equal civil, political and legal rights.

White Texans refused to adopt a textbook in the 1930s that taught the fundamental equality of the races, or portrayed Reconstruction, as it is now widely understood, as a missed opportunity to establish a more just and egalitarian Texas.

But Houston and his white counterparts were motivated by the conviction that progress, both for African Americans and for Texas, required a more honest and progressive account of the state and its history.

In this black and white image, Black men and women are seen marching along a main street while others are watching.
The Juneteenth Parade in Huntsville, Texas, circa 1900. Sam Houston Memorial Museum and Republic of Texas Presidential Library, Huntsville, Texas.

An ongoing battle for equality

Today’s legislative efforts in Texas and elsewhere to restrict the teaching of systemic racism in public schools ignore the lessons and realities represented by Joshua and Samuel Walker Houston’s lives.

The argument used for supporting such restrictions is that “divisive concepts” like the history of racism may make some students feel uncomfortable or guilty.

That sort of thinking echoes the same justification provided by Texas lawmakers in 1873, when many argued that the state’s schools must be segregated to ensure “the peace, harmony and success of the schools and the good of the whole.”

But the opposite is true.

In reality, the prohibition on teaching the darker chapters of our past creates a segregated history.

Instead, as Samuel Walker Houston recognized, young Texans must have a more honest account of the past and of one another to progress into a unified and egalitarian society.

Texas history is both the story of people who dedicated their lives to the work of advancing freedom and the story of powerful people and forces that stood against it.

One cannot be understood without the other.

Americans cannot appreciate the accomplishments of Joshua and Samuel Walker Houston without examining the vicious realities of Jim Crow society.

The lesson of their lives, and of the Juneteenth holiday, is that freedom is a precious thing that requires constant work to make real.The Conversation

Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, Professor of History, Sam Houston State University and Zachary Montz, Lecturer, History Department, Sam Houston State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article