Juneteenth is an opportunity to reflect on what “freedom” is and how each of us can attain it. When the Emancipation Proclamation was read to enslaved Black people, they were told that if they were to stay on the plantation of their former master, their master would have to pay them. This began the practice of sharecropping which was slavery by another name.
In 2007, I photographed and interviewed Alberta Sabree – a former sharecropper, for my As the Veil Turns photography and oral history series about Black women who converted to Islam prior to 1975 (and pioneered many of America’s oldest Muslim communities). The eldest of her siblings, she and her family were bound to a land that neither she or her ancestors ever wanted to belong to.Though legally free, like everyone else in her family, she was trapped in a system of hard labor, debt, and deprivation of hope.
Alberta did not feel free.
She was toiling the same land of her grandparents’ slave masters. Her family had labored this same way for hundreds of years in captivity and now in freedom.
Unless she did something drastic, the construct of sharecropping would imprison them all for foreseeable generations to come.
She wanted to break free.
One day, along with some distant relatives she stole her own self away from the land and people that were keeping them captive. Hiding in the back of a trunk all the way to Pittsburg, she had her own freedom ride.
Was she fearless?
No. She was scared.
Was she courageous?
Alberta was going to FREEDOM.
You have to leave where you are to get to where you want to go.
Alberta’s courage to leave the plantation and take her own freedom by the hand inspired the rest of her family to free themselves one by one. They did it courageously with faith in God’s promise.