What is Juneteenth?
June nineteenth (Juneteenth) became a federal holiday in 2021, but it has been celebrated for over 150 years in Black communities across many Southwestern states. The holiday commemorates the date in 1865 when enslaved persons in Galveston, Texas finally received news that the Civil War ended, and they were free.
Juneteenth symbolizes freedom for enslaved people while simultaneously acknowledging the deliberate denial of that group's liberty and basic human rights for four preceding centuries. 158 years later, today, it serves as a symbol for the subsequent calculated repression of that history.
It took more than two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation for enslaved people in Texas and others west of the Mississippi River to be freed by the U.S. army. (The initial proclamation was issued by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863). Texas was the final former Confederate state to ultimately comply with the law.
The time lag was intentional. Enslavers west of the Mississippi River categorically ignored the legality of the Emancipation Proclamation, which meant enslaved persons were not truly free until the military arrived to force compliance with the law.
Communication is power.
American's level of familiarity with Juneteenth and its importance varies. I was in a New York public high school in the 2010s and I still didn't have more than a vague grasp on the significance of Juneteenth. I certainly didn't memorize it for the APUSH exam. Conversely, my parent grew up in Houston where annual celebrations were commonplace.
Houston is also home to, "The 10-acre Emancipation Park [which] was purchased by four former slaves in 1872 and served as a location to celebrate Juneteenth, the date in 1865 that marked the emancipation of African Americans in Texas. Until the 1950s, it was the only public park and swimming pool in Houston open to African Americans."
Ultimately, the brutal murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the Black Lives Matter movement brought our legislator's attentions back to acknowledging that America still has to reckon with its past and repair its trajectory towards racial justice and equality.
I made the below timeline to illustrate the disparate difference between years of freedom versus slavery. The 160 years since slavery was abolished is only 40% of the total time of The Middle Passage slave trade in the Americas.
If your a numbers learner, here's some more disparities.
WORKFORCE: 8 of all Fortune 500 CEOs are Black (1.6%) Comparatively, 5.6% are of Asian and 4% are of Hispanic descent
WEALTH/FINANCE: White family's median wealth = $188k. Black = $188k/8 = $24k
There's far more to be done in achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion in this country. Honoring Juneteenth as a federal holiday is one step in that direction.
Although 12% of Americans are Black, that number increases to 15% for the Gen Z population. I saw a 2021 article about how Gen Z ("The most racially diverse generation in American history") cares about racial justice more than older generations. I for one very much agree with the following quote:
The research is clear. To talk with Gen Z, you must acknowledge their experience with racism and protest.
Happy Freedom Day.