The New Jim Crow and Black Women’s Fight for Freedom

President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863—and it took until June 19, 1865 for that news to reach Texas, where many Black people still remained enslaved. The announcement saw many Black people rejoicing in the streets in celebration of the new promise of freedom and hope for equality.

Each year, Black people in the U.S. commemorate Juneteenth and reflect on how far we’ve come and what remains of the journey to full equality—but these days, it feels like we overcame slavery, segregation and other civil and human rights violations only to face the new Jim Crow era of the Trump administration.

Women protesting at the March for Racial Justice in Washington, D.C. in 2017.(Stephen Melkisethian / Creative Commons)

A recent study found that over 84 percent of Black adults feel that the country is on the wrong track and that systems in this country are set up to give whites more opportunities than Blacks. We feel that way for good reason.

While we no longer face segregated water fountains, restrooms and restaurants, segregation still runs rampant. We see it in the education system, where schools in Black neighborhoods too often have limited resources, ultimately impacting the quality of education for Black children. We see it in the measurements around economic equality, such as the wage gap between white and Black workers that has reached 26.7 percent, up from 18.1 percent in 1979—with white workers making $25.22 an hour, on average, while Black workers made $18.49.

Environmental racism also plagues Black communities. Flint, Michigan, where a generation of Black children have been poisoned by the water because of government neglect and insensitivity, is just one notorious example. (Note: The water in Flint is still not potable!) A recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency found that people of color are “more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air.”

From the growing list of unarmed Black men and women killed by police violence to the outrageous number of Black people incarcerated, the criminal justice system is the largest example of institutionalized racism today. It’s an unjust and racist structure that perpetuates violence against people of color—especially Black people. Mass incarceration devastates our families, disenfranchises us from the electoral process and robs our communities of the contributions of millions of Black men and women.

Sixty-five percent of Black adults believe that policies under the Trump administration don’t keep Black children safe from mass incarceration—and they’re right. Black women are twice as likely to be incarcerated as white women; according to the NAACP, Black children “represent 32 percent of children who are arrested.”

In a time when racial tensions are significantly heightened by the bigotry and policies of the Trump administration, the new Jim Crow era threatens to once again devastate racial equality. We should all be outraged that on this day, far removed from 1865, two-thirds of Black people feel that racism affects our ability to have equal access to healthcare, safer neighborhoods and reproductive care.

Black women are feeling that outrage—and fighting back. We are fighting for civil rights by changing the narrative and stigma associated with generations of systemic racism and sexism. From #BlackLivesMatter to #MeToo, the most significant movements for human rights in the U.S. are being spearheaded by Black women. We are leading the struggles in the streets, corporate suites and the halls of Congress.

As we commemorate Juneteenth, let’s all look toward the future—and recommit to the ongoing struggle to end racism by supporting Black women leaders. If you don’t stand behind our leadership, you stand on the wrong side of history.


Marcela Howell is the founder and president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda and the former senior policy and communications consultant for Communications Consortium Media Center and vice president of policy, communications and marketing at Advocates for Youth. She has a master's in literature from Saint Louis University and a J.D. from Pepperdine School of Law. You can follow Marcela on Twitter at @BlackWomensRJ.