by Lucretia Carter Berry – June 16, 2021
Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of chattel slavery in the United States, dates back to June 19,1865. Due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863, the new Executive Order had little impact on Texans. So, two and a half years later, Major General Gordon Granger and Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that those who had been held in bondage were now free. With the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of Granger’s soldiers in June, the resistance to liberating enslaved people was finally overcome.
I don’t recall learning about Juneteenth until I was in college. Since then, Juneteenth seemed to celebrate and commemorate a historical event that only a marginalized few were courageous enough to contend with. Let’s be honest, Juneteenth not only marks a date of emancipation, it also recognizes belated liberty — freedom delayed by the enslavers’ resistance, their unwillingness to concede.
Because traditionally, our national narrative of ‘liberty and justice for all’ has refused to hold space for our contradictory ideals around who gets to be free, I was shocked, in 2020, to witness how Juneteenth was snatched to the center of our collective attention. In a massive move to perform Juneteenth, the social scape was inundated with Juneteenth info posts, so much Juneteenth paraphernalia, and so many ‘How to Celebrate Juneteenth’ articles.
While it’s wonderful that Juneteenth has been welcomed at the collective table of events-worthy-of-national-holy-status, let’s be mindful to NOT water it down, commercialize it, or invoke it as simply the ‘real independence day.’ Remember that before most of us learned about Juneteenth, it was already considered holy and celebrated by some. Like the origins of most popular holidays, Juneteenth already held sacred status for a marginalized group of people — people who were commemorating emancipation in a nation that, almost a century earlier, had fought for its own freedom with the left hand while holding others in bondage with the right. So, may those of us who are new to Juneteenth connect to this day of recognition in the spirit of its origins. May our celebrations extend beyond a cookout to reach for and honor all that June 19, 1865 wants to teach us about us.
Here are three ways to honor Juneteenth.
- Teach the history that led up to June 19, 1965. Reflect on the Confederate resistance to liberation for enslaved Africans.
- Connect to the impact — historical and present. Using Zerflin’s But Slavery Was So Long Ago Timeline, reflect on how our nation’s economy was dependent on dehumanizing, chattel slavery far longer than not. Reflect truthfully on how this period in our history shaped and continues to influence our society today.
- Share a dream you have for the future. Imagine our nation healed of its open wounds still festering from this time period. Dream of how you can make significant and lasting improvements for our future.
Check out Emily‘s Encouragement & Recommendations
- 5 Juneteenth Lesson Ideas for Families
- A Lesson: Juneteenth and the Case for a National Holiday for 8th grade and up
- What Is Juneteenth? by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.