Earlier this week, Congress approved, and President Biden signed into law, legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday to be commemorated on June 19th. This was a bipartisan vote, but not unanimous. It’s sad but not surprising that those who opposed the legislation are white men. (See the list here).
While the Emancipation Proclamation is taught in schools, in many areas, Juneteenth is not. Neither is Critical Race Theory, which spotlights the history of racism and bias in our country. There’s a battle being fought in many states to ban changing the current U.S. History curriculum to include the history of racism and bias. The education organization Chalkbeat has compiled a map of states pushing legislation to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools, as well as a map of states actively working to expand the education of these topics.
While I’m familiar with the history of Juneteenth, Critical Race Theory, and the need to stop whitewashing U.S. history curriculum our schools, I am not qualified to write about it. So, I reached out to friends who are.
First up is Terry Hollimon.
Terry is a husband, father, social justice advocate, Seattle media personality (he hosts the popular radio show/podcast, “The Barbershop Show,” with his friend and former NFL star Marcus Trufant, and is a frequent guest on KING 5 and KCPQ 13 in Seattle), a former University of Washington athlete, and one heck of an incredible human being.
Here are his words.
There isn’t anything more American than the concept of freedom. The country was designed and built on the idea that nothing could be more important. Nothing more sacred. It is of course why the colonizers came here in the first place. To be free of a tyrannical and oppressive British government. That’s why we celebrate Independence Day every year on July 4th. For Freedom.
But that freedom was not afforded to Black Americans back in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence became the law of the land. In fact, on July 4th, 1776, Black Americans were still enslaved. Legally owned human beings. Kept in bondage and unable to enjoy the freedoms granted to Americans on that most glorious day. It would not be until 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln that slavery was abolished, and Black Americans were granted the same freedoms and liberties that their white counterparts had enjoyed for nearly 90 years.
Except they weren’t.
Many southern states were slow to inform their slaves that they were actually free in 1863. There wasn’t an email that went out to all slaves letting them know that they were now free. There was no Facebook post or Tweet signaling the end of slavery. They had to wait for those in charge to tell them and then allow them go free. Oddly enough, most slave owners were not in a rush to give up their free labor. And it wouldn’t be until June 19th, 1865 that the last enslaved Africans would learn of their freedom. That was when a Union Army ship sailed into Galveston, Texas and informed the enslaved people of Texas that they were actually free and that slavery had been abolished in the United States of America 2 years ago.
Texas slave owners took an extra two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed to grant Black Americans their freedom.
Two extra years of free labor.
Two extra years of illegal captivity.
As if the generations and generations of forced labor and chattel slavery that had already taken place somehow wasn’t enough. Over 250,000 men, women, and children finally learned what freedom was on that day, thus their real Independence Day, Juneteenth, was established.
To celebrate this occasion, we, like the first Juneteenth celebrators, indulge in things that were once considered luxury items to our enslaved ancestors. Red soda, red velvet cake and watermelon symbolize the blood that was shed by those who toiled to build this nation. It’s a time that I use to not only celebrate, but to reflect on the sacrifices that were made by my ancestors. And how for generations our families were torn apart. Babies were born in bondage and forced into a lifetime of servitude.
And if we are being honest, June 19th didn’t end our struggles here in America – It just opened up a whole new chapter full of them.
Take a moment, even if it’s only once a year on June 19th to fully acknowledge what this day means to us all. What it symbolizes. How in a righteous moment our country still did the wrong thing. And how we still continue the struggle to this very day to get it right.