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Happy Juneteenth…Or Is It?

June 19, 2012

Today is Juneteenth, which celebrates the end of slavery in Texas in 1865 in particular, and end of slavery of the U.S. in general. It is commonly believed, though unsubstantiated, that the slaves in Galveston, TX were the last to hear about the end of slavery. Legend has it that Union troops made their way to Galveston sometime in the middle of June and notified the slaves of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union’s victory. The exact date isn’t known, however Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19th.

I use the word “celebrated” loosely. Most Americans have probably never heard of Juneteenth. From it’s birthplace deep in the heart of Texas, the holiday has spread to black communities across the nation. The usual commemorative activities include cultural and educational events, such as what’s going on in Brooklyn this week.

Juneteenth needs to be a nationally recognized holiday, with all the accouterments of other major holidays. We don’t necessarily need a day off (especially since it’s between Memorial Day and Independence Day), but recognition from public officials and media outlets is definitely in order. Standard recognition in calendars would do as well. Stores could have Juneteenth sales. (I mean, is an American holiday really a holiday if not’s commercialized?)

Furthermore, Juneteenth is not only a day to celebrate freedom from physical bondage, it’s also an opportunity to examine how far we’ve come as a nation in terms of social justice for the descendants of slaves. We have much to celebrate in that respect (and no I’m not just talking about a black president whose wife descended from slaves). We can celebrate the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. We can celebrate Brown v. Board of Education. We can also acknowledge how much farther we have to go, especially in terms of the education and criminal justice systems.

Now before you say “isn’t that what Black History Month is for,” let’s be clear about purposes. Negro History Week, which became Black History Month, was started to highlight the fact that black people do in fact have a rich and valuable history. That message and purpose should remain intact, and Black History Month can continue to be a celebration of the history and culture of African descendents (within the past 5,000 years for the human migration smartypants).

Juneteenth celebrates freedom, and we should remember that freedom is not just physical, but it’s mental and spiritual as well. As the founder Negro History Week Carter G. Woodson observed, if you control a person’s mind you don’t need to control their body – they’ll do what they’re programmed to do. We have a lot of miseducated negroes these days, from the youth that are killing each other, to famous rappers saying it’s okay to slap people.

I rarely see or hear of non-blacks celebrating Juneteenth or even recognizing its existence. This needs to change. If we are to cherish freedom as a nation, and if we are serious about overcoming the sin of slavery, then we need to make Juneteenth a official nationally recognized holiday.

From → Commentary

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