Juneteenth National Independence Day is a day to celebrate the Black community’s distinct expression of our freedom: Black people’s freedom from enslavement, and our collective vision of a freedom that White America could not see for us. Juneteenth is not a victory celebration, but a knowing in Black people, and now in multi-ethnic and multi-cultural communities all around the country, that a person can see, believe in, and hope for a better life. When America only saw Black people as slaves, Black people made unseen things come true. This is what Juneteenth represents. A day of delayed emancipation a full two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed all slaves.
Let’s remember that Juneteenth–America’s youngest federal holiday–came to prominence in 2020 in partial recognition of the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other Black folks who have died at the hands of law enforcement. Even in our recent history, Black folks’ freedoms were not their own, but the continued awakening of a country for a better democracy, which time and time again has originated from our communities of color.
The upcoming Fourth of July is traditionally celebrated as the birth of American independence, with festivities of fireworks, parades, concerts, family gatherings, and barbecues. But in 1776 there was no freedom for the slaves that were owned by the founding fathers. That’s why Juneteenth, Jubilee Day, is significant to our country’s independence and the ongoing fight for a more fully realized national freedom.
Juneteenth also represents an honest remembering of U.S. history. Today represents a recognition that slavery is this country’s original sin, and most importantly, a violation of the values we hold deep in our hearts and minds as human beings. Juneteenth compels us to confront the myth that the South seceded from the Union over the issue of states’ rights, and not slavery. We recognize that the Civil War was fundamentally a conflict between people who believed they had the right to shackle human beings and those who did not. In the end, it was the many slaves who walked off their plantations to join the Union army to fight for their freedom. A freedom won by the free.
However, freedom is a never-ending battle. At this current time, when Critical Race Theory is shouted down by so-called Replacement Theory, and when popular narratives undermine communities of color and further divide our country with gun violence, racial terror, suppression in our classrooms, oppression of women’s rights, and denial of the existence of trans people entirely. We should be lifted by this holiday. This holiday allows us to express our belief in freedoms beyond these narratives.
Let us celebrate the freedom to live, freedom to learn, freedom to achieve economic prosperity, freedom to live in healthy and regenerative spaces. Let us find joy in the freedom to love one another no matter our differences, and the freedom to have autonomy over our own bodies.
Let us reflect on this Juneteenth holiday for all that has been endured by the generations before us, and honor all those who fought, persevered and unceasingly demanded a more just and equal nation.
We can also celebrate our awareness and knowing that emancipation and liberation requires that we stay vigilant and continue to educate ourselves, our communities and our children about our shared history and our shared commitment to make it right and make it better.
Let’s celebrate the contributions that Black folks and Black culture bring to our communities and the unity it can represent as a future of unseen better things to come.