By Rev. Harry Louis Williams, II aka O.G. Rev
Many believe that it was the English philosopher Francis Bacon who first spoke the words, “knowledge is power” into existence. Hundreds of years later, novelist Tom Clancy put a twist on that ancient wisdom which might seem more apropos for these times. Clancy said, “The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people.”
Juneteenth is the story of how the control of information kept African-American victims of slavery languishing on plantations for two-and-a-half years after the end of the Civil War. Far away from the battle lines where cannon blasts and rifle shots had felled scores of men, Texas slaveholders kept such a tight fist hold on information that their enslaved Africans continued to work for free even though their kinsmen in the other forty-nine states had been released from bondage. It was neither force or the fear of brute violence that kept them in chains. They continued to eat rotten food, live in shacks and shiver from the cold at night because they lacked the information that they were free.
On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger travelled to Galveston, Texas toting a document called “Granger’s General Order No. 3.” It began: “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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
It is difficult to use our twenty-first century minds to even envision what those words must have sounded like when they fell on a black slave’s sunburnt ears back in 1865. Still, for a second try to imagine what a phrase like “all slaves are free” would have sounded like to person whose back had been scarred and mutilated by the whip. What would “free” sound like to a senior citizen who had never once set a foot down on the other side of the plantation gate? Knowledge is power.
How do I plan to celebrate Juneteeth this year? I will celebrate on Friday, June 19 by seeking to free more of my people through the printed word. Like General Gordon Granger, I plan to craft words that can unlock chains.
Are you an author? Do you work in the field of literature? In a world where the phrase Black Lives Matter recently overtook covid-19 for news coverage, people are seeking books that will help them overcome 401 years of Black oppression in America. Dedicate Juneteeth 2020 to helping them get that knowledge.
Harry Williams was born in Brooklyn, NY and raised in Asbury Park, NJ. He holds a BA degree from Kean University and a Master of Divinity Degree from Palmer Theological Seminary. Currently, Reverend Williams (known in the community as OG Rev) serves as a community minister/activist in Oakland, California. He is also the Interim Minister of Compassionate Care at the historic Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. He has written 9 novels and nonfiction books. His latest is entitled: Taking It To The Streets: Lessons From A Life Of Urban Ministry.