Dr. Raymond Winbush

By Wiley Henry

MEMPHIS, TN — Dr. Raymond Winbush is quite candid and matter of fact when he talks about the plight of African Americans, the horrors of the slave trade in America, and the case for reparations. 

He’ll seize the opportunity to expound on those topics and others when he keynotes the 30th Anniversary Juneteenth Freedom Luncheon on June 15, 11:30 a.m., at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis, 3700 Central Ave.

A reputed scholar, activist, research professor and director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University (MSU) in Baltimore, Md., Dr. Winbush’s visit is being underwritten by the Shelby County Legislative Black Caucus in partnership with the Memphis Juneteenth Festival. 

The festival commences the weekend of June 17-18 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day at Health Sciences Park, 26 South Dunlap in the Medical District.

The freedom luncheon is one of several events on tap during the month of June in observance of Juneteenth, a federal holiday since 2021. It is hosted by Dr. Telisa Franklin, the festival’s president.

“We welcome Dr. Winbush to Memphis and look forward to his keynote address. I’m sure he’ll enlighten us and provide answers to a number of questions about slavery and Juneteenth,” Franklin said.

Shelby County Commissioner Henri E. Brooks, who initiated Dr. Winbush’s visit to Memphis, said the entire community will benefit from his depth of Africa and African American history and culture.

Henri E. Brooks, Shelby County Commissioner

Brooks said she first met Dr. Winbush in 1992 at an NAACP program in Nashville as an elected state representative for Tennessee’s 92nd District. She’s been enamored with his scholarship ever since. 

“I have the highest regard for Dr. Winbush,” she said. “He’s just a conscious component in our community. He’s so vital, not just for adults and students, but he’s a role model for children.”

In addition to MSU, Dr. Winbush has served as a faculty member and an administrator at Oakwood University, Alabama A&M University, Vanderbilt University, and Fisk University. 

According to his vitae on MSU’s website, Dr. Winbush is known for his “systems-thinking approaches to understanding the impact of racism/white supremacy on the global African community.”

At the freedom luncheon, Juneteenth will be the crux of his keynote address. “How do we get free in 2023?” he asked rhetorically. “We’ve got to liberate ourselves mentally now. And I’m going to talk about it as a meditation.” 

In other words, he said, “I don’t want to just think of Juneteenth happening back in the 1860s in Texas. I want to say what do we do now? How do we liberate our people now from a lot of other things that are going on with them?”

Now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday, Dr. Winbush has mixed emotions. “That’s the fastest declared federal holiday in history,” he said. “We didn’t have to even fight for it the way we did Martin Luther King’s birthday way back in the 80s.”

He believes the federal holiday is “a deterrent from keeping the discussion on reparations,” which has been bandied around the U.S. House of Representatives for decades. 

The late U.S. Rep. John Conyers’ bill – H.R. 40 – is one of note. First proposed by Conyers in 1989, the bill was referred to as the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.”

“We got to do something to repair the damage,” said Brooks, and added that the Shelby County Board of Commissioners has discussed reparations as well. “We got to be woke about it. We got to be conscious about it.”

Reparations won’t be parceled as “40 acres and a mule,” Dr. Winbush explained, which was a redistribution of land that the federal government had promised freed Black families in 40-acre parcels after the Civil War.

“I think that reparations are going to take a variety of forms,” he said. “Some people are going to get a check; some people are going to get land; some people want to go back to Africa.”

There will be opposition to reparations, Dr. Winbush surmised, “because white people do not want to examine honestly their past.” He added: “We need to keep our eyes on the prize. And the prize is reparations.”