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We’re Not Free Until We’re All Free

Faith Holmes | Jun 19, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Faith Holmes | Jun 19, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

History can be a tricky business. I mean, we all go to school and learn so much about the history of our country, and the history of our world. We are tested on this information and taught that it is factual. What happens when you learn that what you have been taught is not the truth, but a narrative that makes one group of people look good while condemning another group of people? If you look at the history of race in America, you will find this to be the case over and over and over again.  

The Baha’i writings tell us that “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues.” Baha’u’llah the prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith stated:

Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquility and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it. All the domains of power, of grandeur and of wealth are illumined by its light.

We must tell the truth — our very stability as a society depends upon it. We must right the wrongs of history, we must take a stand for all that is right, and today we will start with learning the history of Juneteenth and Lady Liberty! 

June 19 is Juneteenth, which African American communities celebrate as their Independence Day. I’m sure some of you are saying, “But I was taught that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.” Although that is historically true, many ignored the law and continued the institution of slavery. 

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that the war had been won and that slavery has ended. Today many African Americans celebrate Juneteenth as Independence Day since July 4, 1776 had nothing to do with their community or justice. In 1787 at the United States Constitutional Convention, it was officially decided that black people were only three-fifths of a human.

In the weeks before Juneteenth 2020, many of us have struggled with what we could do in the wake of yet another killing of an unarmed black person: George Floyd. Oregon-based artist Arya Badiyan felt inspired to act, create, and contribute by taking to her canvas. 

“When words are not enough, make art,” Arya says. “Liberty Enlightening the World” is the first painting she created.

Liberty Enlightening the World by Arya Badiyan
Liberty Enlightening the World by Arya Badiyan, 2020.

“The figure in the foreground restores the original intention behind the Statue of Liberty symbolizing the emancipation of the slaves,” Arya says. “The background is symbolic. The pillars are evocative of the lynching memorial in Alabama. The crowd represents the millions of black lives that have been tragically taken over hundreds of years as this country has failed to be a haven of liberty. It is also a reminder that they are still with us, a veritable army ready to help establish liberty and justice for all.”

The Baha’i writings emphatically state that we all must arise and address racism as it is our most vital and challenging issue. In 1938, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, wrote a letter in which he addressed the role of white Americans in ending racism. He said, “Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem…” 

We all have a contribution to make, we all must play our part in truth-telling, working for justice, and speaking out against injustice. When we all play our part, we change our world. Indeed, Baha’u’llah spoke unequivocally about justice. He wrote:

O SON OF SPIRIT ! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others… Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.

Arya’s most recent masterpiece, “Juneteenth,” explicitly addresses the significance of the day.

Juneteenth by Arya Badiyan, 2020.
Juneteenth by Arya Badiyan, 2020.

“In this work, the meaning of the Statue of Liberty is restored to its original intention as a celebration of abolition,” Arya says. “This re-conceived Lady Liberty holds aloft broken chains in one hand and a plaque in the other, marking the date, June 19, 1865, when the last of the slaves were freed in Galveston, Texas.”

“The monument was conceived in June 1865 as a commemorative gift from France to the United States to celebrate the end of slavery,” Arya explains. “In the original design, Lady Liberty held broken shackles. But as the statue came to life, this history was obscured. The association with immigration was a narrative written after its unveiling. Ellis Island received its first immigrants six years after the Statue of Liberty was unveiled, and the famous poem at the statue’s base wasn’t written until 1886.”

Arya’s made prints and T-shirts of “Lady Liberty” available for purchase. One hundred percent of the proceeds from T-shirt sales in 2020 go to organizations committed to race unity. 

No light can compare with the light of justice. The establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend upon it,” Baha’u’llah wrote. We can bring about that justice if we all get involved, educate ourselves, and contribute to the solution of so great a problem.

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  • Gevorg Sahakyan
    Jun 25, 2020
    thank you
  • Gretchen Runion
    Jun 20, 2020
    So informative, and well written. The artwork is amazing.
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