It’s not often that a Federal Holiday is created. In fact, only eleven such holidays exist: the first being Independence Day (aka Fourth of July) in 1870. The newest, Juneteenth National Independence Day, was signed into law yesterday, and is being celebrated by the Federal Government and their employees today (because June 19 falls on a Saturday, and that’s how holidays roll.)
So, what is Juneteenth?
In a nutshell, Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when the last enslaved African Americans in the United States learned they were free. At this point you may feel slightly confused. Shouldn’t Juneteenth describe the day enslaved African Americans were actually freed with the end of the Civil War? The short answer is yes. The long answer acknowledges that over two full years had elapsed between the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the date when the last slaves in Galveston, Texas, finally heard the news of their freedom.
Juneteenth is not a new celebration for the Black community and its allies. The roots were cultivated back in 1865 as a day of remembrance for a hard-won dream. It is only recently that the remainder of America has actively heard the story of those lost 30 months of freedom.
Race, slavery, colonialism, oppression, criminal justice, justice, equality, equity, freedom.
These are difficult topics of conversation to have with ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and our communities. They are a fraught history that can bring out the worst in us. But they can also bring out the best.
What can I do about our nation’s newest holiday?
I can read widely, and respectfully listen to as many viewpoints as I am able. I can give myself time to process what I learn–and others the space to do the same. I can recognize that everyone comes to the table with different life experiences than I do, and therefore are entitled to their own emotions, feelings, and ideas. I can educate myself and share my knowledge with those who ask, while listening to those who want to share their knowledge. I can change my opinion as new information is brought to my attention. I can change my actions based on what I learn.
I can take responsibility for my actions and acknowledge that good intentions do not necessarily equal good outcomes. I can treat others with care and compassion. I can engage in authentic and genuine relationships.
I can celebrate Juneteenth with and in honor of my Black friends and the Black community as a whole.
If you would like to learn more about the history of Juneteenth or would like book recommendations on this topic, contact the library. We have so many wonderful books that address our nation’s critical conversations.
As for me, I am currently reading Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi. This historical, young adult novel follows “one family’s awakening to the true meaning of freedom and explores the events that led up to the creation of Juneteenth.” It is the perfect complement to other books I’ve been reading such as Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr. and How to Make a Slave and Other Essays by Jerald Walker. To name but a few.
keep learning and learn to keep an open mind~ jody