Happy Juneteenth! On this day, we celebrate the last enslaved Africans in this country being declared free. I’ll be honest, and admit that I hadn’t heard of Juneteenth until a few years ago. I knew that celebrating July 4thwas a bit odd because when America received her independence in 1776, Blacks in this country were still enslaved. The Emancipation Proclamation giving slaves their independence would not be signed until 1863, almost 100 years later.
On June 19th, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger took over the state of Texas with almost 1800 troops to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Texas was the most remote slave state at the time and the Emancipation Proclamation was not being enforced. The slave owners in Texas had refused to free their slaves because they wanted them to continue being enslaved through the harvest season. General Granger and his troops freed 250,000 Black slaves on June 19thand while we celebrate this freedom today, it came with a price. Reminiscent of the counter-protestors we are seeing today, whites were not happy that Blacks were free. And more black people were killed because of this. Because of segregation, it was hard for black people to celebrate their freedom. But in the 1870s a group of former slaves gathered $800 and purchased Emancipation Park to allow us a space to celebrate. Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday, and it is recognized in all but 3 states: Hawaii, North and South Dakota.
The fact that Juneteenth exists is a painful reminder of not just America’s past with racism, but the world’s. That humans had to celebrate their freedom from being slaves is atrocious. My family is not American, I am of Jamaican and Guyanese descent, but the only way my family could have gotten to those countries is through slavery. I will probably never know the atrocities that my ancestors went through, but I do know that their strength and determination run through my veins. I take great pride in that. Not that we were enslaved, but that we have been able to survive and in some ways, thrive.
This is the first year, that I will celebrate Juneteenth. On Monday, my boss gave us the day as a holiday and moving forward it will be a paid holiday. Her announcement came a few days before New York’s Governor made Juneteenth a paid state holiday. I am grateful that we are discussing and celebrating Juneteenth. If Christopher Columbus can get a whole day dedicated to him and his poor navigation amongst other things, then a day honoring how Blacks have suffered in this country seems appropriate. It is still not a national holiday, and while it will never become one under our current administration, I hope that one day it will. America likes to gloss over its history with slavery, but doing that finds us in the predicaments that we are in. We can never truly move forward until we learn and understand our past. For my white people, try and learn a different part of history. Learn about the Tulsa Massacre, read about fighters like Marcus Garvey, learn who Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner was and why as women we should be grateful for her. Learn about the ways that your people have benefited from the system they put in place. Don’t put the work of teaching you about your ancestors’ history from us.
Some of the ways that Juneteenth has been celebrated are by food fairs, family reunions, readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, historical reenactments, and Miss Juneteenth Pageants. For me, I have yet to decide how I am going to celebrate. But I do know that I will do whatever I want to do. I am free. My ancestors fought and survived so that I could thrive. For my Black people, give yourself a little extra love today. Our ancestors look down on us and are grateful that they held on. We thank them today.