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Juneteenth: A Symbolic Day Representing Black Emancipation
“…the 19th of June wasnt the exact day the Negro was freed. But that’s the day they told them that they was free…”– Elizabeth Hayes Turner “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory.
What is Juneteenth and why should you celebrate?
We all know, and have been taught that on July 4th, 1776, the U.S. formally adopted the Declaration of Independence solidifying the day as the birth of American Independence.
But for who?
July 4th symbolizes a day of white American independence. Enslaved people in the U.S. remained enslaved.
That is until, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
The Proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” “within the rebellious states” are, and henceforward shall be [forever] free”. This executive order abolished slavery in name, but not in practice.
It only “freed” those enslaved in Southern states that seceded from the Union. Slavery continued in states loyal to the Union like Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri.
Black freedom was entirely dependent on the Union winning the war, and Black freedom did not mean equality or equity for Black people on any level.
Once again, enslaved people remained enslaved on a day meant to symbolize independence.
The Civil War officially ended on April 9, 1865. Two months later on June 19th Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the war was over and that the enslaved were now free.
The news was met with utter shock and jubilation.
Two months after the end of the Civil War, two and a half years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, and 89 years after American Independence Day, the last of the enslaved, in the deepest depths of the South finally learned they had another option.
The celebration of this day was coined “Juneteenth”, “Juneteenth Independence Day”, “Freedom Day”, and “Emancipation Day”.
What Does This Mean for Us Now?
Today Juneteenth is recognized in 48 states, but it’s not yet a national holiday. Juneteenth is rarely mentioned in school curricula, and many Americans are largely unaware of the significance of the day.
Celebrations dwindled as Jim Crow laws and segregation replaced slave codes and resurged during the 1960’s with the rise of the Black Power and Civil Rights Movements.
The push to celebrate Juneteenth nationwide has been subtly pushing its way to the forefront for years, and it’s time we listened.
Amidst a global pandemic, and over 100,000 American lives lost to COVID-19, America continuously watches Black lives taken with impunity. The list of names growing as the world watched George Floyd take his last breath on camera, weep as they heard the news of Breonna Taylor shot to death in her sleep and mourn for Tony McDade who was killed in an apartment complex. Their names added to an ever-growing list of other Black lives stolen in a country built on the principles of freedom and justice. Their deaths, and the deaths of so many others became the catalyst for protests around the world.
As we grapple with the constant violence inflicted on Black bodies, there is a push to celebrate Black joy and Black happiness.
Let us celebrate Black Bodies the same way we mourn them.
Let us be reminded of the resilience of Black people who have suffered and continue to suffer after hundreds of years under the chokehold that is discrimination, structural racism and implicit bias.
Yet, Black people, my people, continue flourish in a system not designed for our success.
Let us celebrate Blackness, its beauty, its resilience, its strength, and its softness.
This Juneteenth let us amplify and support Black business, Black voices, Black stories, Black events and donate to Black led organizations.
Let us celebrate the hope that June 19, 1865 represented 155 years ago in Galveston Texas.
I know I will be celebrating, the deliverance of message that paved the way for my parents to emigrate to this country. I will celebrate as an African American woman honoring the roots of my Cameroonian ancestors. Those who were stolen from home and came here and survived, and those who were left behind giving me my first-generation legacy to uphold.