160 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, the Negro still is not free

The ghosts of Black men, Black women and Black children linger like fog in a morning haze, crying out to Justice.

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Supporters of Black Lives Matter march in Nashville, Tennessee, on April 24, 2021.


“What happens to a dream deferred?” – Langston Hughes

Four hundred and two years. Incalculable tears fill deep muddy rivers. The unsatisfied souls of Black folk still linger, clinging with bruised and tired fingers to a dream called Justice.

The ghosts of Black men, Black women and Black children linger in the atmosphere, like thick fog in a morning haze, crying out to Justice, pleading, “Justice.” The blood of Emmett Till, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Breonna Taylor cries out for Justice.

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The fresh blood of Daunte Wright and Andrew Brown cries for Justice. The souls and blood of the unknown and unnamed — lynched, brutalized and maimed over centuries, and wrongly imprisoned in penitentiaries — weeps for Justice.

And while the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd answered one call for Justice — a call that still yearns to be fully satisfied — our collective cry is still unrequited. No Justice. It just is.

Justice — a dream too long deferred, having almost dried up, like Langston Hughes’ raisin in the sun; having festered like a sore and then run. Inequality and injustice still the sum of breathing while Black in America.

And irrefutable the historic truth of the slayings of countless black men, women and children who once dangled like strange fruit from poplar trees at the hands of Southern white lynch mobs.

Irrefutable the inhumanity and depravity once inflicted by slave patrols who would become the militia-style groups empowered to control and deny access to equal rights for freed slaves. That enforced Black Codes. Brutalized Black souls.

Slave patrols that morphed into militia groups, which evolved into modern policing. And I wonder sometimes if policing is not so much broken, but rather too often acts today the way it was designed: To lock us up. Keep us in line. Freedmen, but shackled by the system and in our minds. Judged by a criminal justice system that remains not colorblind.

And the continued state-sanctioned infliction of raced-based hate upon the Black body simply rhythm and rhyme. Perhaps it is only a telling sign of the times.

Times in which the conviction of a white police officer for killing someone Black still seems almost as unlikely as it was during Jim Crow days, back when Black folks’ homes were set ablaze, and the aftermath of Black bodies lynched and burned at night smoldered into the morning haze.

It is a history that even after Chauvin’s conviction leaves me in a daze over whether Justice is finally opening her arms to us. For we have rarely ever seen Justice — just us.

And trauma upon trauma, from before Emmett Till and after Breonna. From the bombing of four little girls in a Birmingham church by the KKK; to the torching of Rosewood and Tulsa, and the Red Summer of hate.

To the police choking of Eric Garner for the “crime” of selling loose squares; to the New Jim Crow and hate’s centuries old glare. To 17-year-old Laquan McDonald shot 16 times by a white Chicago cop; to George Floyd pleading for his life and crying out to his Mama.

To a rare conviction in this case caught on camera, which does not even scratch the surface of the road to Justice and equality that remains. But that for now at least averts riotous anger across America and avenging flames.

But nearly 160 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, the Negro still is not free. And American justice remains elusive for me.

The litany of my beloved country’s racial sins is not yet at an end. And Black folks’ distrust of the police will be hard to mend.

But we still cling to the dream called Justice.

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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