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The celebration of Juneteenth is a recognition of the resiliency of the Black community while honoring the sacrifices made by the ancestors who paved the way. During this renewed movement for Black lives, Juneteenth is a day that should remind Americans that there is still so much work to do. America will never truly be free until all lives, especially until the lives of Black folks and people of color are valued, validated, and loved.
Despite all that Black people have done to make the world a better place, the problems that were a constant plague centuries ago continue to exist today. Violence, crime, illegal drug use, high unemployment, low wages, high school dropouts, racial profiling, an unfair justice system, stereotyping, sexism, discrimination, racism, prejudices, senseless killing, and just plain hate seem to grow more each day. Yet, we celebrate impaired freedom.
Juneteenth is the celebration of the ending of systematic slavery in the United States. On January 1, 1863, two years into the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect freeing all slaves in any slave-holding state. This proclamation was most effective for areas in the South with strong Union influence. It took much longer for Confederate-heavy state states to honor the proclamation. Texas was one of these states.
It was not until June 19, 1865, two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation that Union Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas to declare that the war was over, the Union had won, and slavery was now illegal. The last slaves remaining in the area celebrated their freedom and began the long road of building a life beyond slavery. The day eventually became known as Juneteenth and was regarded as Independence Day for the American people of African and slave descent.
Juneteenth has been around for over a hundred and fifty years. It all began when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston Texas with news that the Civil War was over and the enslaved people were to be freed even though the emancipation proclamation had been issued more than two years earlier, it had little effect at the time of signing as news of the order had not reached the enslaved population of Texas.
The first major celebration was held in Austin, Texas in 1867. By 1872, the celebration had been added to a calendar of public events, and that year Black leaders in Texas purchased 10 acres of land to celebrate Juneteenth. June 19 was informally celebrated up until 1980 when Texas became the first state to proclaim Emancipation Day as an official state holiday.
Today, nearly all 50 states recognize Juneteenth as either a date of observance or a state holiday. It celebrates the resiliency of Black Americans. Over the years Juneteenth has been celebrated by the Black community all around the country in a variety of ways. Celebrations can range from small family gatherings and backyard barbecues to grand festivals and parades. It is a day for Black Americans to celebrate freedom, culture, and heritage and for all people to recognize and commemorate this pivotal moment in American history.
Juneteenth celebrates the resilience of the Black community. Many challenges continue to exist, but African Americans must take an active part in solving what will live on with families, friends, neighbors, and the community at large until the system is dissolved. When speaking of the importance of Juneteenth celebrations, Marcus Robbins, a Madison, Wisconsin police officer, said:
The Juneteenth ‘Black Resilience’ theme is very appropriate. It is a reminder that the Black community has a history of hardships and has bounced back, overcome, and made the world around them better.
Our ancestors were very resilient. They looked like us and sounded like us and lived in a time wherein it was vastly more dangerous to do this, to be Black. I think this theme reminds everyone that the Black community’s ability to bounce back and overcome is without peer as if it were embedded in our DNA.
Juneteenth screams resilience. The Black community navigates struggles every day that are physically taxing and emotionally traumatic. Imagine living your entire life facing the risk of incarceration and interpersonal violence, being tear-gassed, arrested, injured, or seeing other people wounded; this is incredibly difficult and physically exhausting. In the words of the late Dr. Maya Angelou, Juneteenth declares “Still I rise!”
Juneteenth presents a great opportunity to celebrate the resilience of Black America. This date marks an important historical moment when Texans were forced to finally acknowledge that African American men, women, and children were now free and no longer property. The word of this Jubilee Day, now known as Juneteenth, spread quickly. Some people stayed while others left immediately. Many of these liberated souls wanted to get away from their masters and others went on a search to find family members who had been sold away. Although no reparations were made, they were excited to see what the next season of life would bring.
Even today as the Black community pauses to celebrate President Biden’s signing of the new law making Juneteenth an official holiday, this is not the end. There is so much work left on this ride to freedom, equality and justice, but each victory – big or small – deserves celebration. While some will exit the activism journey here, others will be awakened to the importance of joining the fight. Despite the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery, Juneteenth reminds us all that the beauty of Black history is rooted in our resilience as a culture.
Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Wisconsin State Journal: ‘Black resilience’ theme of this year’s Juneteenth celebration
YouTube: Dr. Shennette Garrett-Scott
VOX: Why all Americans should honor Juneteenth
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