As We Honor Juneteenth, We Must Acknowledge—and Continue the Fight Against—Modern-Day Slavery

Hands raised in fists in front of a red, yellow, and green flag

The holiday of Juneteenth represents hard-fought and long-overdue freedom. Celebrated on June 19th, it’s a day filled with festivities, including great food and folks wearing their best clothing. Why is that such an important part of the day? When Black people were slaves, they were given slop and scraps from their owners’ meals. Their clothes were rags pieced together from leftover materials or thrown out clothing. So the food and clothing represent a grand rising.

Even after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, people in Texas were still trapped in slavery. Not until over two years later, and continued war between Northern and Southern states, did slaves in Texas actually have freedom—on June 19, 1865. They were no longer the property of white people who legally owned their bodies. Their children would no longer be subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment while their families were dismantled.

Yet the Black community is still ensnared in slavery, in the form of disparate representation in the current criminal legal system. And if you reside in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), you are made to work in deathly hot conditions and freezing temperatures. Incarcerated workers in TDCJ make furniture, pick cotton, and maintain the prisons where they’re being held—typically for zero pay. Incarcerated people can also face punishment for refusing to work.

The fact that Black people are overrepresented in the Texas prison system and other state systems like Child Protective Services (CPS) is a harsh reality. In 2022, Black people’s bodily autonomy is still heavily surveilled and punished disproportionately. These punitive punishments disregard the value of Black Texans, our families, and our communities, causing ruthless intergenerational harm.

We are not free until we all are free. In next year’s legislative session, we’ll support partners like Coalition to Abolish Slavery Texas (CAST) and others as they fight to end slavery in Texas prisons. We hope you’ll join us, as well as recognize and lift the voices of the Black Americans who endure modern-day slavery this Juneteenth.

About the Author

Cynthia Simons, RPS, MHPS

Cynthia Simons

Cynthia Simons is the Grant Me The Wisdom Foundation (GMTW) Women's Justice Director at the Texas Center for Justice and Equity, having joined the organization in mid-2020. Her passion for civil rights and justice reform stems back to the age of 16, when she graduated from high school and attended the University of Texas at San Antonio. That passion has since been fueled by a firsthand view of the criminal punishment system: As a formerly incarcerated woman, Cynthia works to protect women’s rights and ensure that women have access to resources and rehabilitative services before, during, and after interactions with the system. This includes the critical need for strategies that promote family connection and reunification. At TCJE, Cynthia works to end mass incarceration and support women and families who have been impacted by the criminal punishment system; she coordinates the Texas Women’s Justice Coalition in support of trauma-informed programming and gender-responsive reforms. She also oversees the Statewide Leadership Council (SLC) on behalf of TCJE, coordinating with the Steering Committee to support and expand the advocacy work of system-impacted Texans. Cynthia holds Re-Entry and Mental Health Peer Specialist Certifications. In 2023, Cynthia was named one of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats' 40 Under 40 and was honored by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus as an Outstanding Texan.