Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19, 1865, when the enslaved in Galveston, Texas were finally released (almost two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in 1863).
but, It wasn’t until I enrolled at Hampton University, the site of the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the South (under what is now called”oak liberation‘), that I learned the true meaning of Juneteenth.
Up until that point, I had spent 13 years attending school in a predominantly white community – a community that welcomed me, but not with open arms. I spent many years being the only black face in the classroom. For years, every February, I was expected to lead all things black history; My job was to teach my classmates about “my history” – no one thought I was in school to learn that history either.
Why would any teacher in a predominantly white community teach me about Juneteenth… when they themselves know nothing of it? Having dealt with these entire elementary school years, she was the driving force behind the importance of attending HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). To go to a school where getting to know my people, my community and my history was a top priority.
What, for a slave, is the Fourth of July
On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave one of his most famous speeches, “What, to a slave, is the Fourth of July.” 170 years later he replaced “Slave” with “Black,” and the similarities are astounding.
Douglas declared that positive statements about American values—such as liberty, citizenship, and liberty—were an insult to the enslaved population of the United States. Because of their lack of freedom, liberty and citizenship. Douglas referred not only to the captivity of slaves, but to the brutal exploitation, cruelty, and torture these people were subjected to in the United States.
While “ending slavery” is of course something to celebrate, it is also a time to commemorate the resilience, resourcefulness, and resolve of my ancestors. Juneteenth is a day to honor all that they have experienced.
However, the mere fact that this holiday is based on a history that involves lying to slaves and delaying their freedom is something I don’t miss.
It’s still not safe to be black in America
Texas slave owners who denied the outcome of the Civil War display a uncanny resemblance to the people today who hold dearly to the lie of voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election. The truth is that restricting black voting is as American as good old apple pie.
Despite the end of legal slavery, it was never safe to be black in America. Newly liberated blacks suffered painful and violent reprisals from white Americans. Large-scale lynchings and mass incarceration plagued the black community.
In recent years, particularly in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, it has become an urgent priority for whites to avoid labeling them racist – while at the same time avoiding deconstructing systemic racism.
It wasn’t until June 17, 2021 — 38 years since the last federal holiday was established, Martin Luther King Jr. Day — that President Joe Biden and Congress decided to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. The collective list of demands from black Americans – which included everything from reparations to support for democracy via fair and moral voting rights, to name a few – was ignored. I think there are more urgent bills that could have been signed before Juneteenth was made a federal holiday.
The effort to stifle conversation and transformation continues. Currently, more than 25 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching of critical race theory or limit how teachers discuss racism and sexism. Now is the time to finally come to terms with the beginning of this nation.
Today, I’m considering this powerful quote from Malcom X: “The white man will try to please us with symbolic victories rather than economic justice and real justice.”
A federal holiday is a nice move, but we still have a long way to go.
More on Juneteenth: A summary of some legislation that would tackle systemic racism.