When did you first learn about Juneteenth?
I mean, seriously, think about it.
It wasn’t taught in elementary school, middle school, or high school for that matter.
The vast majority of us didn’t learn about it until college or worse within the last 3-5 years.
It seems as if these holidays and historic events just came out of thin air but that’s not true. It’s time to recognize its place in American history and reflect on the long struggle for equal rights. We’ve been fighting for our lives since the dawn of time and we still have much further to go. As of June 15th, the Senate passed a bill to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday. President Biden signed off on the bill on June 17th and the rest is history – for now.
What Is Juneteenth?
On June 19, 1865, the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended, and enslaved African Americans had been freed. Though the Emancipation Proclamation became law in January 1863, it could not be enforced in places still under confederate control. Thus it took over 2 years for approximately 250,000 Texan slaves to learn their freedom had been secured by the government.
Click here to learn more about Juneteenth.
Why Is It Important?
Juneteenth shows us that freedom and racial equality have always been a battle for Black Americans. It’s a never-ending fight, which we’re still dealing with today.
For decades, Juneteenth was mainly celebrated in Texas. It moved to the West and North during the Great Migration, but by the 1950s it had fallen by the wayside. It was revived during the Civil Rights Movement, most specifically after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.
Although many Black families celebrated our freedom, it became a state holiday in Texas in 1980.
There’s a saying within the Black community that “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” In this case, it’s our ancestors who paved the way for us to be free and live out their wildest dreams. Because of them, Black people all around the world have access to education, and gave us the opportunity to become Activists, Artists, Athletes, Doctors, Engineers, Entrepreneurs, Financial Advisors, Graduates, Lawyers, Leaders, Politicians, Scientists, and the list goes on.
Why Did It Take So Long To Be Recognized?
According to the Congressional Research Service, there’s no such thing as a national holiday, because neither President nor Congress has ever asserted power to declare a holiday binding all 50 states. Typically, the two branches establish the federal holidays, which only apply to federal employees across the nation and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, states establish their own holidays/commemoration days independently.
Prior to the passage of Juneteenth, there have only been four new holidays added to the national calendar in the past 100 years.
Ms. Opal Lee, known as Fort Worth’s Grandmother of Juneteenth, was a pioneer in the Juneteenth movement. Her decades of work in the movement spanned over 40 years, but in 2016, at the age of 89, she decided to widen the focus and get it accepted as a national holiday. Click here to learn more about her story.
How should you celebrate it?
There are many ways to celebrate this momentous occasion. My family celebrates with the three key staples: BBQ, Red Soda Water, and Watermelon. It’s a family tradition started by my Grandpa Johnnie Dotson.
I’ve compiled a list below of ways you can celebrate:
Support Black Businesses and Buy Black Owned
Educate yourself on the deep rich history that we weren’t taught in school (beyond Black History 101)
Use your voice to spread awareness
Celebrate Freedom & Honor The Ancestors
Take Time To Rest
Share stories of Black people/families that you know and love
Spread Love & Joy
Learn about prominent Black figures in African American History
Learn about Ms. Opal Lee, Fort Worth’s Grandmother of Juneteenth
Looking Beyond The Holiday
It’s a step forward that Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, but what’s next?
Will our children be able to learn about Juneteenth and other significant historic events that have been erased from the history books in school?
How about reparations for Black people?
Ending police brutality?
The list can go on.
I challenge you to think about ways you can assist moving Black Culture forward.