Today in Bendigo, Victoria, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, Consul General Kathleen Lively, and filmmaker and historian Santilla Chingaipe unveiled a plaque to acknowledge the life and contributions of African-American John Joseph.
During the Eureka Stockade, John Joseph was arrested for protesting government licensing fees, tried for high treason in Melbourne, and acquitted by a jury. He was celebrated as a folk hero and carried shoulder high through the 10,000-strong crowd cheering outside the courtroom.
He died in 1858 and lies in an unmarked grave in White Hills Cemetery, Bendigo. The ceremony today was an opportunity to acknowledge his life and contribution to Australian and American history as part of the United States’ commitment to racial equity and recognizing historical injustice.
“His story is one for our time too as we face this history. We can ask ourselves who is missing from today’s narrative and what is our responsibility to make sure that they are included. We can be inspired by the courage of the miners and renew our commitment to justice for those who have been left out and left behind. We can take heart from the recognition that great progress has occurred while recognizing that there is much more to do. We can hold our governments accountable to their democratic promises and we can hold ourselves accountable for creating a more just and honest world.”
— Ambassador Caroline Kennedy
“The triumph of his legacy is that on days like today, we can correct the historical record to say that John Joseph was treated unjustly and his life should be understood within the context of the times that he lived in. While it doesn’t change the circumstances of his experiences while he was living, it’s my hope that this ceremony enables his spirit to rest easy.”
— Santilla Chingaipe
“This ceremony is the culmination of that long overdue recognition. In the United States, February is Black History Month, and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Black Americans and their contributions to both the U.S. and Australia than this.”
— Consul General Kathleen Lively