-June, 19 2018
Happy Juneteenth! Here we will discuss what Juneteenth is, it’s historical origins, how it’s celebrated, and why it’s important, now maybe more so than ever.
What is Juneteenth?
We have to be honest, up until a few weeks ago, we had never heard of Juneteenth, and that in itself is exactly why we choose to write about it today. For anyone else who is unfamiliar with this, like we were, Juneteenth is a celebration recognizing the announcement following the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation, that the African American slaves were free. It’s a day of remembrance, excitement, joy, and gratitude for progress that was hard fought for in our country.
On June 19th, 1865, Union soldiers, led by General Gordon Granger, announced that the slaves were free. Now if you know your history (which we honestly didn’t so much), you may be thinking, “hey, but the Emancipation Proclamation was over two years before that!”, and you would be right, you awesome, awesome history buff! However, for …reasons… the news of the slaves being freed was very slow moving. There are some claims that it just took that long for the news to spread (they didn’t exactly have viral videos in those days), but there are also accounts of a messenger being murdered to keep the news from spreading, farmers trying to get in one last harvest, and people just willfully not letting the news get around. Whatever the reason, this life changing news was delayed for over 2 years, and that moment of freedom didn’t exactly mean instant peace. (http://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm).
Many slaves immediately fled, some before the announcement was even concluded. However, in many cases, they were not just left to peacefully head north. They faced angry slave owners who saw this announcement as their property being taken away, and while the African American slaves rushed to try and escape, the slave owners shot, beat, and killed many. (http://mentalfloss.com/article/501680/12-things-you-might-not-know-about-juneteenth)
The actual announcement encouraged slaves to stay on as employees of their previous owners, but for obvious reasons, most chose to leave and reunite with family in the north, or just to leave because they were free to do so. However,
The optimism was short-lived…and soon replaced by a betrayal so soul shattering blacks questioned whether the United States was serious about granting them their freedom. Ex-slaves found for the most part, that…they were left to fend for themselves. The abject poverty and the racism that maintained it, prohibited any hope for assimilated into American society. In Texas, the editor of the Harrison Flag newspaper denounced as “treasonable” the sale of land to blacks. The Texas Homestead Act, passed during Reconstruction, granted up to 160 acres of free land to white persons only. The Texas legislature in 1866 passed a new set of black codes that attempted to reverse the limited gains blacks had been granted.
Ex-slaves entered freedom under the worst possible conditions. Most were turned loose penniless and homeless, with only the clothes on their back. Ex-slaves were, as Frederick Douglass said “free, without roofs to cover them, or bread to eat, or land to cultivate, and as a consequence died in such numbers as to awaken the hope of their enemies that they would soon disappear.” (http://www.njclc.com/njclchistory.html)
And as we all know, it was not…is not, a short, fast, easy road to racial equality here in America. Whole generations have come and gone again and again since the first Juneteenth, which was one year from the original announcement in Texas by General Gordon Granger. That’s …one hundred and fifty three Juneteenth’s ago. And still we struggle with racial issues every day. Many have noted that today, this 2018 Juneteenth, the top news story is that of children with dark skin being locked away from their families, just a sign of how far we still have to go.
All of this is heavy subject matter. This history is not a happy story. It’s not one that is easy to write. But as American’s it is our history. And it’s one we should not forget. Without facing the darkness we are capable of as a species, we will never move past our worst, on to our best. By facing this past head on, and celebrating that we have made progress, and can keep making progress, we give these stories power—to both be cautionary tales and a glance back to see the progress we have made, and can continue to make.
How it’s Celebrated
There are many ways to celebrate Juneteenth, and a list of ideas can be found here: http://www.juneteenth.com/howtocelebrate.htm . Whether it be eating traditional foods, recognizing the achievements of African Americans, or just taking time to reflect on our history, any action that involves acknowledging our past and celebrating those who help push for equality is a great idea. Some Juneteenth celebrations might involve readings from African American leaders or writers, like Martin Luther King Jr. or Frederick Douglass. Others might involve somber naming aloud of victims of racial hate crimes or police violence. Also, lighter activities like block party barbecues or parades can be a great way to celebrate. Really it’s up to you and your community to decide how best to celebrate, but the key idea is to appreciate the weight of this historic shift.
Why it’s important, Possibly More now than Ever
It’s pretty common knowledge that we are living in a political and social climate that is often divisive, negative, and heated. There seem to be so many narratives and rallying cries pushing different groups apart, forcing people to view things as “us” versus “them”. This is not only counterproductive politically, but is extremely emotionally and psychologically taxing. Seeing the world around us and the people around us as either for or against us is, well, scary. With so much rhetoric pushing us further and further away from each other, it’s all the more important to work together, celebrate victories together, and recognize and appreciate growth, progress, and accomplishments that benefit everyone (We hope it is safe to say that all sides of the aisle are pretty comfortable saying it’s a good thing we don’t ENSLAVE each other anymore!!). Being able to connect and share in a joyful celebration, especially one recognizing progress that benefits everyone, is so needed right now. It’s also an opportunity to show each other that hey, there may be all this negative stuff going on, and we may not all see exactly eye to eye on every exact policy or candidate or issue, but we can all agree that enslaving people is not ok, that all humans should be treated with kindness. So, let’s get together and remind each other of that, and that we are so grateful our ancestors fought for just that idea.
Happy Juneteenth Everyone!
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