Why We Should All Celebrate Juneteenth, AKA Black Independence Day
How well do you know American history?
I mean REALLY know. Not just what we read in the textbooks back in high school and college. Not only the stories, events, and battles that have been officially memorialized by the Federal Government.
The stuff we learned in school was only a portion of what happened. And the narratives and facts in textbooks are often manipulated and distorted to meet a political or ideological end.
Similarly, the conventional curriculums of American history are almost always created by White academics, which means that even the most well-meaning accounts are biased towards a caucasian, Eurocentric view of the United States and the World at large.
If we take the time to dig a bit deeper, we might not recognize the United States that we thought we knew.
The recent police violence across the country has awakened a broader culture shift in the way that Americans think and talk about race. Many non-Black Americans are only starting to learn about the pain and trauma of Black history.
While it is too early to judge, this awakening has the chance to be one of the greatest things to happen to Black culture in the history of America. We have a real shot of creating genuine equality for all Americans. It won’t happen overnight, but it is the start of a long journey.
In light of this, it is time to start celebrating. We celebrate when we have accomplished something meaningful; when we have pulled off a significant victory. The reality is that in the context of this Race Pandemic, the Black community has succeeded in impacting national consciousness like never before.
Fortunately, there is a holiday in a few days that you likely have never heard about unless you are Black.
Juneteenth takes place on June 19th and is known as the second American Independence day. It commemorates June 19th, 1865, when the final slaves were officially freed in Texas.
If you recall the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln officially freed the Confederacy’s Black slaves on January 1st, 1963. This day was known as the Emancipation Proclamation, famously known as the end of Slavery.
However, things didn’t play out so simple. Millions of Confederate families depended on the region’s 2.9 million slaves for their economic livelihoods. They weren’t excited to cooperate.
Enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation was a little…tricky. The Southern States and the Confederacy had been routed by Union forces, and economic destruction ensued. But the South is an expansive region, and Union soldiers couldn’t be everywhere.
In reality, the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 only freed 500,000 slaves that lived along border regions with the Union. The remaining slaves stayed under ownership until Union soldiers finally made it to that region and declared Slavery officially over.
It took a total of two and a half years for the soldiers to cover the entire territory. Texas was the final state where Slavery persisted. Texas was geographically shielded from much of the Civil War, and many slave owners chose to relocate there to escape the violence and legal mandates.
In fact, the slaves in Texas didn’t even know that they had been freed for two years after the Proclamation. Word didn’t reach them, and the owners had no interest in telling them.
Finally, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19th, 1865, and informed owners and slaves alike that Slavery was over.
His message: slaves are now employees, and owners are now employers. Blacks have equal rights to Whites and have the right to own property.
It was the very end of Slavery.
Many former slaves fled immediately to the north. Their passages weren’t easy, and they encountered racism, hate, and violence along the way. But they had achieved a new level of freedom, and an end to the shameful bondage.
Juneteenth Over the Years
Immediately after Granger arrived in Galveston, Black communities started celebrating June 19th as a glorious day. It was initially called Jubilee day, but over the years evolved into Juneteenth, a combination of June and Nineteenth (known as a portmanteau, where you combine two words into one).
Blacks weren’t allowed to gather in public spaces, so they celebrated by lakes and rivers or on private land. They dressed in their finest clothing, enjoyed barbeques and special desserts, and sang spirituals (slave songs). They preached sermons and prayed to God.
Juneteenth wasn’t celebrated consistently in the years after. The 20th century brought forth the New Jim Crow laws, a legal apartheid system that officially made Blacks second class citizens. Subsequently, it became tough to gather, and perhaps they didn’t feel so free.
At the same time, many Blacks relocated to cities and worked in factories. They weren’t allowed to leave work and missed the day.
Finally, there was considerable shame in the Black community around their heritage, and many people wanted to assimilate and become White instead of celebrating who they were.
Juneteenth experienced a revival before World War II, and millions of Black Americans have celebrated the holiday every single year since then.
Juneteenth is still not recognized as a Federal Holiday, though it is legally on the books of 47 out of 50 states.
A Joyous Day
The Black community continues to experience considerable hardship in America. However, this isn’t a group of people that only sits around and moans and groans. Black culture is filled with energy, joy, dance, light, and spirit.
Black Americans are proud of who they are and who they have become.
Lee Jordan, the Chair of the National Juneteenth Film Commission, said that “among the African American culture, we have a little bit of a fear of embracing our history because there’s some shame connected to Slavery, but I don’t feel that way. I feel that [Slavery] is such an important part of who I am as a person — the strength that I have within me comes from that struggle.”
Black Americans across the country celebrate Juneteenth in droves — from Wall Street to the Inner City.
People who celebrate have the chance to reconnect to their ancestors and history. In difficult times, celebrating the heroic success of their lineage is a reminder of the power and resilience in their very own genetics.
The celebration is filled with traditional foods like smoked meats, fried okra, strawberry soda, and red velvet cake. Not so healthy, but oh so delicious. Foods with the color red are typical, marking the spilled blood of the slaves but also the brightness and beauty of Black liberation. Parades are popular in cities with larger Black communities.
How to Celebrate
Don’t feel bad if you are only learning about Juneteenth now.
Anyone is free to celebrate Juneteenth. It is a Black holiday, but first and foremost, it is a celebration of liberty, an essential value for all Americans.
While July 4th is undoubtedly an important Holiday, we need to recognize that it didn’t include liberty for all Americans. And that’s why Juneteenth is such an important day to integrate into our broader culture. It highlights inclusivity — liberty for all Americans.
Typically, the best thing you could do would be to attend a Juneteenth celebration in your local city. However, things are a bit different this year due to quarantine. We have to wait another year to get out and party!
In the meantime, I would recommend the following ways to celebrate Juneteenth:
-Order delicious soul food from a Black-owned business, and eat strawberries or other red foods. Take some time to enjoy it, and express gratitude for the freedom and rights that you have.
-Educate yourself! Watch high-quality content about the struggle that Black Americans have experienced. Great films include Malcolm X, Roots, and 12 Years A Slave. These are long, intense movies that don’t shy away from the brutal realities of being Black in America. They are hard but worthwhile.
-Advocate for Black Lives by posting high-quality content on social media. Inform people of what’s going on!
Celebrate Juneteenth on social media with pictures of how much you are -enjoying yourself on this day. Tell the World how important this holiday is and persuade them to celebrate.
-If you are in a position of power in your community and organization, make Juneteenth an official event in your group, and recognize Black members and leaders for their contributions and value.
We need to turn Juneteenth into an American Holiday that everybody celebrates. I look forward to seeing the day when it is a Federal Holiday.
In the meantime, enjoy the food and the day! Happy Juneteenth!
For Further Research:
- Juneteenth, Freedom at Last: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOOguH71--E
- Juneteenth Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juneteenth
- Emancipation Proclamation Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emancipation_Proclamation
- History of Juneteenth: https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm