Juneteenth - Why We Celebrate
I have a confession to make: talking about race and racism makes me pretty uncomfortable. I fear saying the wrong thing, speaking when I shouldn't, sounding uneducated, or coming across the wrong way.
However, just because a topic makes us uneasy doesn’t mean that we should shut down all communication or mention of it. I say that to say that this is an uncomfortable post and topic for me, but it is important. Juneteenth is important and celebrating it is even more important. Why? I'm so glad you asked!
Imagine someone told you we shouldn't celebrate the 4th of July. Imagine they said our freedom is known and understood, so why should we have an entire day to celebrate it? Imagine they said "why make it a big deal? Having parades, celebrations, cook-outs, parties, and shooting fireworks is overkill. We should just be happy we're free from Britain and have independence." I'm not going to speak for you, but for me, that would make me sad. I would feel as if my freedom was being minimized. Let me tell you-- I LOVE the Fourth of July, getting all of my patriotic home decorations out and on display, having people over, and going to watch the firework show downtown Homewood. I grew up in a church that had an incredible Fourth of July program every year, and I still get chills and feel pride when I think about some of my favorite people singing songs like "I'm Proud to be an American". The Fourth of July is an important part of my culture and is responsible for some of my favorite childhood memories.
Insert our newest federal holiday, June 19-- Juneteenth, sometimes called Emancipation Day or Freedom Day.
I have another confession to make: I had never heard of Juneteenth before last year. I felt bad for not knowing what it was and took some time to research it. If you feel like I did last year, let me help you out.
Juneteenth takes place annually on June 19th to commemorate June 19, 1865, when federal orders were read by Major General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas declaring all previously enslaved people in Texas were free.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued 2 years prior, the news had not yet made it to Texas until this day -- June 19, 1865.
This was an important day in history and the fight to end American slavery and is honored across the country with cookouts, parades, heartfelt reunions, and other festive activities.
Other Juneteenth Facts:
Slaves weren't allowed to dress up because they were slaves. This is why as a part of Juneteenth, many people dress up in their best to celebrate the holiday.
Juneteenth is the oldest holiday that commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States
Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth as a statewide holiday
"Because freeing slaves is a good thing, and celebrating that seems like the best of American traditions. With Juneteenth here, people now have time to listen and learn, and party. Because, and I can’t reinforce this enough, Juneteenth is an official federal holiday about slaves being free after hundreds of years of bondage as property."
or in the words of Oprah in this article:
"And for anyone who isn't Black but would like to recognize Juneteenth, every year, June 19 is a great day to honor and embrace Black culture through its art and history. You might want to take the opportunity to learn about major firsts from African Americans, read a book by a Black author, catch a film that honors Black life, or support Black-owned companies. But most importantly, remember that all of those things shouldn't just happen on Juneteenth, but every day. Because it's never a bad time to celebrate the independence of everyone in our country. "
I had the honor of participating in the Juneteenth Parade in downtown Birmingham this year, and it was a humbling experience. We've come a long way, but there is still so much work to be done. I've never had to question my freedom to belong, live, work, and raise a family in America. The same cannot be said by my friends of color.
So today, we celebrate freedom for ALL. We celebrate black culture and history. We celebrate the incredible impact they have on America. We celebrate the hope for the future. And we commit to continuing the work towards equity for all people.
Sources and additional resources re: Juneteenth: