This is General Order No. 3, issued by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, June 19, 1865 — the date now known as Juneteenth (a portmanteau of June and nineteenth):
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Michael Davis, of the National Archives, makes a salient point about the order that has informed my understanding of the many activities I’ve witnessed this week.
“While the order was critical to expanding freedom to enslaved people, the racist language used in the last sentences foreshadowed that the fight for equal rights would continue,” Davis writes.
Last week, I learned that the state’s wealthiest man, hedge fund tycoon Kenneth C. Griffin, purchased a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat — perhaps the most valued Black artist in the world — for $100 million. Rest assured, public, Griffin plans to allow you to see it. The painting is the “large-scale 1982 canvas ‘Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump’,” the Chicago Tribune reports.
Basquiat, who was often idle when alive, died in 1988 of a heroin overdose. He was 27. Around five years before his death, Basquiat painted “‘Defacement’: The Untold Story,” which was inspired by the death on Sept. 28, 1983, of Michael Stewart, “a twenty-five-year-old art student at Pratt and a frequenter of the time’s impoverished but raucous, creatively booming East Village and Lower East Side bohemia, from injuries incurred while in police custody,” according to the New Yorker.
Basquiat “used marker and acrylics to dash off a sketch of two fiendish cops beating an armless, legless figure, rendered in black silhouette.” Basquiat, like Stewart — brilliantly and creatively idle and Black —”was distraught” by his contemporary’s murder, saying repeatedly: “It could have been me.” I wonder which wealthy, white person or institution now owns that pain and suffering.
Last week, I lit up at the news of a Black Lives Matter Roast, sold at Counter Coffee in Forest Park and Sugar Beet Food Co-op in Oak Park. A portion of the proceeds will go to those two local institutions and to the Black Lives Matter Foundation.
Not long after hearing about the new roast, I learned this depressing news from NPR:
“Among the recipients of people’s charity – the Black Lives Matter Foundation. It has raised several million dollars in recent weeks in the form of small gifts from individuals, also well-intentioned employees of big corporations, including Apple and Microsoft. Here’s the rub. The Black Lives Matter Foundation is not connected in any way with the Black Lives Matter movement. Reporter Ryan Mac has been trying to untangle this for BuzzFeed News.”
I will also try some untangling myself, although I’m heartened, still, by this bit of wisdom:
“Everyone is feeling the sentiments of injustice, but the biggest challenge is people don’t know what to do,” Counter Coffee owner Jacques Shalo told Forest Park Review, Wednesday Journal’s sister paper. “The Black Lives Matter Blend keeps the concept broad but the connection local.”
On June 19, local politicians marched down Washington Boulevard, from Broadview through Maywood, through Bellwood, through River Forest into Forest Park, in order to celebrate Juneteenth and to protest the centuries of police abuse condensed into the death, caught on video, of George Floyd, whose unwelcome martyrdom risks becoming like Basquiat’s exquisitely rendered pain and suffering over the death of Michael Stewart — swallowed by the status quo.
Swallowed by empty tributes, by hollow calls for police reform made by calculating politicians, by the slick gimmicks of clever capitalists.
“Every fury on earth has been absorbed in time….as authority in one form or another,” James Agee writes in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. “The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor … Official acceptance is the one unmistakable symptom that salvation is beaten again.”
Some of those politicians marching down Washington Boulevard earlier this month govern Maywood, where on Saturday a woman protested in front of that suburb’s police station.
Last year on Father’s Day, her sister, Ruth Johnson, was killed on the corner of 1st Avenue and Randolph — in the path of a George Floyd march held about two weeks ago — by an SUV full of juveniles trying to evade police officers.
One officer allegedly started the chase after noticing that the SUV had run a stop sign, which would be against department policy and reckless. Despite dash cam video evidence and witnesses (whom the family says investigating officers have not yet interviewed), the local police chief here insists that the chase was not a chase.
Ruth’s march drew about 10 people, most of them her relatives. But her death has opened up the possibility of a pattern of abusive and reckless policing in Maywood — a pattern that local politicians marching for George Floyd have utterly and frivolously failed to begin to point out despite the settlements, despite one police-involved crash happening after another, despite the many, many un-famous victims who have been hurt or killed at the hands of Maywood police.
“I think they’re missing the point,” said Ruth’s mother, of the local politicians. “They should include her [in their protests], because finding justice for her is just as important as finding justice anywhere.”
“We’re out here crying for the unheard and forgotten,” said her sister.
I hope this world responds to our collective tears by proving their worth in court (through just, meaningful, redistributive laws and ordinances and policies) and not at another Sotheby’s auction.