Juneteenth: The History and the Awkward Silence that Still Surrounds the Why
Reader’s note: This blog post was written in June of 2020 but provides an overview of why we celebrate Juneteenth annually – to commemorate the liberation of African American people.
It’s hard to imagine that just 155 years ago, some of my African American ancestors were enslaved.
This seems like an eternity ago. However, when I think about my 101-year-old grandfather (still living), the perspective becomes more real and even more dreadful.
The first wave of freedom began on January 1, 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation. This allowed some Black people who resided in Confederate States to shed the title of slaves and be considered free.
Although some of us were finally free, Black people in Texas were still under Confederate control. They were still owned, were still property, were still considered slaves.
On June 19, 1865, those of us who were still shackled, finally became free. Juneteenth allowed 250,000 people–a quarter million people who just happened to have melanated (brown) skin–250,000 African American fathers, mothers and children–to relinquish being owned by another human. The date commemorates African American freedom.
As we come upon Juneteenth 2020, it’s critical that all people are more conscious, more educated and more compassionate about the unimaginable circumstances that surrounded and resulted in slavery.
Juneteenth will also be a time to celebrate my freedom, reason with my continual struggle for equality, work to foster relationships with people who do not look like me, enlighten those who have not experienced my pain while forgiving those who can’t be held responsible for the callous actions of their ancestors.
Of course, there’s still work to do. Juneteenth is not yet considered a federal holiday. It is formally recognized as a state holiday by 47 of 50 U.S. states.
Know your history. Live in the present. Work to shape the future.
No community can truly be healthy until racism no longer exists. Read Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s official statement on racism.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of racism in the United States and the work of anti-racism, here are some resources to check out.
- “Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations” by Joe Feagin
- “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Olu
- “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saa
- “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race” by Beverly Doniel Tolum, PhD
- Just Mercy
- Whose Streets?
- I Am Not Your Negro
- When They See Us
- Dear White People