As a little Black girl raised in Texas, Juneteenth was one of the most anticipated and memorable holidays.
Each June, families gathered in parks to celebrate the liberation of our ancestors.
Old school cars and trucks lined the surrounding streets. Music cut through the air and became rhythm to all who listened. Grand-sized barbecue pits released clouds of sweet, applewood smoke.
We celebrated deep into the night. It was natural for us. It was tradition. The contradiction, however, came weeks later when we’d all be back together again to celebrate the 4th of July, better known as the Independence Day of the United States. A national holiday that has excluded the Black community since its inception.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of enslavement in the United States, according to the Juneteenth Worldwide Celebration website.
On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger led a troop of Union soldiers to Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were to be set free.
Freedom had reached Texas well after it’s due date, as President Lincoln formally ended enslavement through The Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
For two and a half years, enslavement proceeded in the state despite the executive order. It was at the arrival of General Granger’s regiment that forced slave owners to submit to the new law.
As a young adult now, no longer in a state of pseudo patriotism, I allow the words of Frederick Douglass to ring in my ears each year as the two Independence Days collide:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”
— Douglass, 1852
“The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”
Fireworks, hot dogs, and flag-themed attire are of no attraction to me, as I understand that for my ancestors, July 4th did not mean freedom.
It was simply a reminder of the injustice in which their lives could not escape. I hear the sounds of depressed and frustrated cries, stretched, dangling rope, and anxious feet bound to chains.
I see the intimidating vast of unfamiliar land and the apathetic crack of whips onto skin. I feel a deep yearning for liberation amid a reality of bondage.
Knowing the depth of suffering that my ancestors endured, in no way can I pretend as though the idea of American independence was ever inclusive.
Understand that we’ve yet to get free. Enslavement has only evolved. It is hidden in the prison-industrial complex, corrupt government agendas, genetically engineered food and dishonest education.
Black men, women and children are still victims to dying at the hands of law enforcement, while the justice system continues to rule with impunity.
As July 4th approaches, I encourage all young Black men and women to thoroughly examine the state in which we live before participating in the celebration.
And if you didn’t this year, partake in Juneteenth next June.
We owe it to our ancestors and to ourselves to keep the holiday alive, as it a testament to our undying resilience. Let us celebrate our liberation, and never our enslavement.