By Grace Obi-Azuike, LLS BLSA President
I grew up less than an hour away from the last town of emancipated slaves in Galveston, Texas. Like most students in U.S. primary and secondary schools, my education on antebellum slavery was only a sliver of my class on U.S. history. At Spelman College, I took my first course on African Diaspora and the World and discovered the depth and scope of the 2000-year Transatlantic Slave Trade. Today we celebrate Juneteenth, the annual celebration of the formal end of chattel slavery in the United States. It is a day to commemorate this country’s ratification of the 13th Amendment which put an end to one of the most violently racist practices in its history. But it is also a day to reflect upon the legacy of slavery.
Imagine the emotions experienced by the last Black slaves when they learned of their freedom from captivity; they were likely hopeful for the future. Yet, the vestiges of the racial caste system that antebellum slavery entrenched, persist today. The Black community confronts overcriminalization, impediments to essential needs in health, housing, and education, and individualized and structural subordination and dehumanization. Some present-day politicians even espouse the racist ideologies of former slave masters. Those former slaves would be disheartened by the ongoing “badges and incidents” of slavery. And they would remind us that we have a long way to go, beginning with our acknowledgment that much work needs to be done to fulfill the anti-subordination promise of the Reconstruction Amendments.
As a Black girl born and raised in Houston, Texas, Juneteenth has always been a celebration for me. I knew the holiday as “Jubilee Day” and its significance permeated the entire city, which shut down its main streets to encourage community-building around its commemoration. Usually, the scorching Texas sun urged residents to stay inside but, on Jubilee Day the sun was a source of energy. As a child on this day, I played with my friends and relatives while enjoying free ice cups. As an adult, this day reminds me that the last slaves did not learn about their freedom until two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. They had the ability to walk off those plantations two years earlier, but their owners exploited their unawareness and continued to restrain them. It was not until those slaves perceived their freedom, that they could liberate themselves. Perception can be empowering and therefore, plays a major role in our collective work towards antiracism.
In his ‘Faces of LLS’ interview, Dean Waterstone stressed the importance of Loyola Law School’s Jesuit tradition of educating the whole person and LLS’s commitment to social Justice. To keep that commitment, LLS students and faculty must educate themselves on slavery’s new transformation. We must understand the intersection between law and systemic racism. As law students, we have access to a wealth of knowledge on this topic. We comprise the generation of individuals that have the strongest ability to dismantle and end racism throughout this country. Although Juneteenth was the formal end to chattel slavery, former slaves were denied reparations and subjected to decades of Jim Crow laws until the 1960s civil rights movement. These lessons guide our ongoing responsibility to overcome racism. We must acknowledge our fractured democracy, even if it makes us uncomfortable; even if it makes us question the societal hierarchies that we have become accustomed to and have normalized in our everyday lives.
Associate Dean of Equity & Inclusion, Prof. Kathleen Kim
Grace’s powerful statement commemorating Juneteenth is a call to action for our community at Loyola Law School. Two years ago, LMU and LLS made explicit our commitment to the values of antiracism, equity, and inclusion as integral to our mission to deliver educational excellence with a deep concern for social justice. Our new learning outcome on the law’s relationship to systemic inequality, made mandatory throughout all required 1L and upper-division courses, is a critical component of LLS’s pursuit to achieve these values. This structural change to LLS’s curriculum provides us with the opportunity to actualize antiracism through what we teach, how we learn, and how we build community with one another. Our internal work toward antiracism has outward impact, through our advocacy for communities of color whether through our Social Justice Law Clinic, our pro bono contributions, and the many other methods of social justice lawyering that we engage in as a community. LLS strives to model progress toward becoming an “authentically antiracist law school.” These words articulated by LLS during the BLM uprisings during the Summer of 2020, guide our racial justice efforts today, tomorrow, and into the future.