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The Black Lives Matter movement has shown no signs of receding over the four weeks since protests erupted around the world in response to the killings of George Floyd and other Black people. Which is promising: The hard work of confronting systemic racism and effecting meaningful change requires universal support, as three Black leaders at Northeastern noted in recognition of Juneteenth, the holiday of American emancipation from slavery.

“I am very proud of the mobilization and the energy that I’ve seen particularly from young people,” Rod Brunson, Thomas P. O’Neill Professor of Public Life at Northeastern, said Friday during the online panel discussion, Juneteenth: Legacies and Lessons. “We need to have some real substantive, concrete change. Otherwise we’re going to find ourselves right back to where we are today.”

Melissa Pearson, an assistant teaching professor of English at Northeastern, addressed the conflicted history of Juneteenth, which signifies the date—June 19, 1865, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation—when Union soldiers informed Black people in Galveston, Texas, that they were no longer enslaved.

Pearson described the Emancipation Proclamation as a “limp document” that didn’t carry weight until soldiers from the North arrived to enforce it.

“You had these recalcitrant Southern states that did not relinquish their power right away,” Pearson said. “They were concerned about their economy, and enslavement was their economy. And so they took every moment that they could to delay.”

Brunson said the two-year lag “represents an early and ongoing unwillingness of America to take their knees off Black people’s necks.”

Their fellow panelist, Ted Landsmark, Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern, agreed that President Abraham Lincoln’s defining achievement was “a gift that couldn’t be delivered on.”

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