Today is an important holiday. On this day in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in Texas finally learned they were free. West Virginia broke away from the state of Virginia during the Civil War in a show of loyalty to the Union. However, many West Virginians (including numerous members of my family) fought for the confederacy. Numerous West Virginians also owned slaves. History is never black and white, with people and institutions and cultures divided into clear-cut categories of good and evil. West Virginia’s history is no different. We have succeeded and we have made mistakes. We need to acknowledge both. If we don’t acknowledge the mistakes, we can fall into a sense of complacency. We can think that we are immune from certain problems in our society. Systemic racism is very much one of these problems.
So, today, on Juneteenth, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about our past. I encourage you to spend some time thinking about ways we can have a better future. I also encourage you to take some time and look through the History On View collection’s numerous photographs of enslaved West Virginians. I’m sharing a few here, but the entire collection is powerful. Acknowledge these men, women, and children and acknowledge the horrific crimes committed against them. Acknowledge the ways we have continued to fail their descendants. Always listen, and always learn.