What is Juneteenth?
Around this time last year, I was sitting with my mom when she asked me if I knew what Juneteenth was. The answer was no. And to be honest I didn’t really care to find out what she was even talking about. She went on to explain anyway. It was June 19, 1865 when General Gordon Granger traveled to Texas to tell the remainder of slaves that they were free. Note that is nearly three years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.
I, as a Black woman, had no idea about this monumental moment in Black history.
I, as an American woman, was completely unaware that this event happened in American history.
At six years old I knew when the Mayflower reached US lands. I knew when America officially became independent from England. I even when George Washington’s birthday was. But I was 18, a freshman in college, when I learned the true date when all slaves became free.
National holidays have always been an important part of American culture. It is a recognition of important events throughout our history, and we have a new one on the list—Juneteenth.
In the midst of America’s current tense political and social climate, honoring Juneteenth is a step in the right direction. It initiates conversation about the racial conflicts still rampant in the US. Racism and white supremacy have been imprinted in the foundation of this country. They run deep in our politics and policies.
Juneteenth is not even recognized in most states’ educational systems. This also plays a part in why I knew nothing about it. And you may not have either. Every American is very aware of the significance of July 4th. We have parades, history lectures and cookouts dedicated to Independence Day. So why not Juneteenth?
The African American community deserves this national celebration. The inequalities from the slave era didn’t stop after Juneteenth. It has continued on in different forms and Black people today still have their struggles because of race. Take a look back to summer 2020, when George Floyd was killed by a police officer even when vocalizing he couldn’t breathe. Or when Breonna Taylor was shot and killed while asleep in her own home. We may not be picking cotton, but we still live in a system of oppression and brutality.
This isn’t something that should only be important to black people. This deserves to be known by Americans period, because this history continues to affect all of us. Slavery was a dark inhumane period in America. Juneteenth was the beginning of all Blacks being seen as people instead of objects to be owned.
More than that, Juneteenth as a national holiday is a push for people to take action and learn more about Black history. No longer is it enough to know who Martin Luther King Jr. is and call yourself educated. No longer can someone call themselves “woke” when all they’ve done is repost a picture on their IG story. Black Americans have struggled a lot and done so much for this country. We should have our history celebrated as much as anyone else.
Use Juneteenth as Inspiration to Take Action and Protect BIPOC’s Voting Rights
As Juneteenth comes closer this summer, I challenge you to acknowledge it. I challenge you to take some time out of your day to learn something new about Black history. Research how much of an impact the racial inequality has had on this country, and how the fight is ongoing. Since Trump lost the election the Republicans have been working overtime to suppress the vote of the people. Since the end of the slave era, voting has been the one way for all people, especially people of color, to actively use their voices to make a difference in America. It is through voting that the people hold the power to choose what we expect of this country, and who we want in office to help turn these expectations into reality. For the Black community especially, voting is crucial to make sure we are putting the right people in power to protect our rights.
In retaliation of the voting turnout towards Biden favor for the 2020 election, there is a huge assault of voting rights that especially affect BIPOC communities. Already state lawmakers have enacted almost two dozen voting restriction laws that make it more difficult to vote by mail or absentee voting. Once again we are getting a front row viewing of the right wings attempt to shut down Black voices in a “legal” manner. The fight for equality is still ongoing, and having Juneteenth as a national holiday is the perfect first step of accepting the Black community as equals instead of pushing us away.
Black history is part of American history, and Juneteenth is no exception. So let’s honor Juneteenth, the moment all Americans were truly free.