Vice President Kamala Harris made some head-scratching comments about the duration of slavery in the United States during an event on Juneteenth.
On Monday, Harris stopped by the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., where she spoke to about two dozen elementary school-age children, according to The New York Post.
“I think that we all know today is a day to celebrate the principle of freedom,” the vice president said about the Juneteenth holiday.
She then delivered what appeared to be some revisionist history, “And think about it in terms of the context of history, knowing that Black people in America were not free for 400 years of slavery.”
“Let this be a day that is a day to celebrate the principle of freedom, but to speak about it honestly and accurately, both in the context of history and current application,” Harris added.
She went on:
“With the Emancipation Proclamation and Civil War, it required America to really ask itself, who is free? How do we define freedom? Freedom in terms of the autonomy one should have? Is freedom given to us or are we born with freedom? Right? … I would argue it is our God-given right to have freedom. It is your birthright to have freedom. And then during slavery, freedom was taken. And so we’re not going to celebrate being given back what God gave us anyway, right?”
It is good to speak about the principle of freedom honestly and accurately.
So let’s take a look at history to see how accurate her comments were.
The first enslaved Africans arrived in the Jamestown colony in 1619, which is seen as the turning point for slavery in what would become the United States.
Four hundred years later would put the end of slavery in 2019 — which is over 150 years after slavery was abolished in 1865 by the 13th Amendment.
As Time Magazine notes, the Spanish did bring enslaved Africans to what is now St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565. But even if Harris was referring to that as the starting point for slavery in the America, that would put its end in, 1965, which is still 100 years off.
The White House tried to clean up the vice president’s comment by telling the Post that Harris was “referring to 400 years since slavery began.”
However, that explanation creates more questions. Was the sitting vice president, who is the first woman of color and the first woman to hold the position, insisting that Black Americans were not really free until 2019?
Was former President Barack Obama somehow still enslaved or restrained white by Americans when he won the 2008 election? Did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 do nothing? Or did they only gain true freedom in the mid-1900s?
And if she did mean a literal 400 years from 1619, then what changed in the past three years that suddenly loosed the bonds that kept Black Americans from being free? And what does it mean, according to Harris, to be free? Does she mean to suggest that people are not free if they have fear, or are in poverty, or face any kind of discrimination?
With Harris, it is also possible that she just really butchered this sentence and meant something more like, “Think about it in terms of the context of history, knowing that Black people in America were not free for the majority of the 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown.”
That would be a more accurate statement. But the original sentence is missing quite a few words if that is what she was trying to say.
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