Also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth may be our newest Federal Holiday, but it’s still relatively unknown around the country. June 19th marks the end of slavery in the United States, and in the wake of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, honoring it is more important than ever.
The History Of Juneteenth
Juneteenth marks the day when news of the abolition of slavery reached Texas, carried by Union Gen. Gordon Granger – two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863. Juneteenth is a celebration of the true end of slavery for millions in the deepest parts of the confederacy, and it’s observed across the U.S. to honor emancipation and bring awareness to today’s continuing racial inequality.
Juneteenth In Present Day
Almost two hundred years later, Juneteenth has really only begun to gain more awareness in the last few years, but it’s no secret that key moments in Black history are often watered-down – if not skipped altogether – in childhood curriculums (for example, it wasn’t until the summer of 2020, after backlash against Donald Trump for his initial scheduling of a campaign rally in Tulsa, OK on Juneteenth, that many people learned about the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, and its importance to the Black community).
In 2021, it was announced that Juneteenth would be declared a federal holiday by President Biden – the first new federal holiday since 1983. While this may inherently feel exciting, like a major step in the right direction, Black Americans have brought to light a variety of concerns, from this federal holiday overwhelmingly benefitting white workers with an extra day off to being used to distract from the fact that Black voters are still overwhelmingly repressed to the fact that, in some states, teachers can’t or won’t teach the history behind the holiday – including Texas, where, if you recall, Juneteenth originated.
Where Does The Lack Of Education Around Juneteenth Stem From?
Aside from a systemic unwillingness to concede the whitewashing of America’s racist history, Critical Race Theory (CRT) also plays a big part here, depending on what part of the country you’re in. CRT is an academic tool based on the idea that racism is a systemic issue. The framework for CRT is not a commonly used education tool in and of itself, but many lesson plans reflect its foundational themes, and a lot of Republicans want to ban CRT – in any way, shape or form – from schools. That banishment effectively silences conversations about race – from the way slavery shaped our nation to racism in today’s society to, yes, the history of Juneteenth.
Moving forward, I’m hopeful that white Americans will use this opportunity to educate themselves on what Juneteenth means, and take the time to think about their part in systemic racism – and the role they can play in dismantling it – while stepping back to allow Black Americans to center Black joy. As a country the U.S. still shies away from discussions about its past injustices, so it’s important to use this holiday to acknowledge the trauma inflicted on the Black community and come to terms with our history in the era of the Black Lives Matter Movement, police brutality, mass incarceration and general inequality.
- Boston’s 11th Annual Juneteenth Emancipation Observance
- Step Afrika! Juneteenth Virtual Celebration
- The Amistad Center for Art & Culture’s 2021 Virtual Juneteenth Celebration