I’ve been celebrating July Fourth for as long as I can remember, but I only learned about Juneteenth last year. Before you ask for my black card, hear me out.
1. Why social media is necessary
It takes a few hours for President Donald Trump’s tweet about a fake word to go viral, but it took almost 20 years for me to learn about a holiday celebrating the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas.
What’s more, I’m not alone. Nine out of 10 college students I know learned about the holiday just within the past five years.
We as a people are lacking education on a holiday that’s supposed to be ours in our classrooms and in our communities. “There’s so much vital history that school textbooks leave out, especially when it’s about African-Americans,” said Daryl Riley Jr., a junior at Hampton University. “Growing up, all I knew was that we were slaves and about Martin Luther King Jr.”
2. Holidays need branding too
The description of Juneteenth is not consistent. The San Diego Union Tribune described it as “a combination of June and nineteenth, the day in 1865 when many slaves in Texas learned they were free. Although emancipation had taken place more than two years earlier, federal troops were sent June 19, 1865, to tell slaves in Galveston, Texas, of their freedom after that news had been kept from them.” The Tribune called it the day slavery ended in America.
The Post Newspaper of Galveston County said it was the day “enslaved people were freed after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was ‘read on a harbor pier in Galveston.’ ”
Al.com says the day commemorates the abolition of slavery.
As a result, it’s hard to tell exactly how many people even observe Juneteenth or whether they know exactly what they are celebrating. The Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau says 40 states around the country host official commemorations.
3. Now that we know, what do we do?
The NAACP hosts annual Juneteenth gatherings to teach new generations about the day.
“Throughout my undergraduate career, I performed annually at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, NAACP’s Juneteenth celebration,” said Alexjandria Edwards, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan. “Each year, I performed Negro spirituals while other artists, traditional folk storytellers, dancers and designers displayed varying forms of black excellence.”
Lyndsay Archer, a junior from Wayne State University, said, “In order for black people around the world and people of color to progress, we must be able to acknowledge and embrace our past history, learn from those experiences, and gain a sense of both pride and humility in our rich narratives.”
Come to find out, many African-Americans have mixed emotions about celebrating July Fourth. After all, blacks weren’t free in 1776.
Lauren Smith, a junior at Howard University, is one.
“I celebrate the Fourth of July because we built this country for free, so every holiday belongs to us.”
Robbie Osborne, a sophomore at Hampton University, doesn’t celebrate July Fourth as a holiday at all. “I don’t celebrate the Fourth of July because it doesn’t represent the liberation and freedom of all races in America.”
I’ve been debating whether I should look at Juneteenth as the true independence day for black people.
I’m aware that the slaves were officially freed by the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, but I’m in solidarity with some of the last black folks to find out. I hate being the last to find out about anything important.
I will still celebrate July Fourth because it provides my family a chance to take a break from work, to celebrate each other, eat great food and watch fireworks. I appreciate the opportunities afforded to me as an American citizen, but Juneteenth as independence day resonates more strongly for me.
Juneteenth is the celebration of black freedom from slavery in the U.S., so why is it 2017 and so many black Americans are just learning about the holiday?
Perhaps the answer is connected to why freedom, as it was intended by the Founding Fathers, feels like an impossibility for black folks. Given all of the black people in prison, the numerous unarmed black men and women who are killed by police, the wage gap between blacks and whites and all the black girls who are discouraged from rocking their natural hair in schools or at work, I’m dubious about how free we are today.
I have only known freedom, but there are still so many black people who don’t. Like the Solomon Burke song says, “None of us are free if one of us is chained.”