Show of hands: Who has heard of Juneteenth? Keep your hand up if you know what it is. Now let’s get only the hands of people who learned about it in elementary through high school.
I would be willing to bet not very many people can honestly say they had their hand up the whole time. American schools often gloss over Black history. They present us with a whitewashed version of America’s history, one that often leaves out the grittier bits of hard topics such as slavery, voter suppression, lynching, segregation, and racial discrimination. And let’s face it, even when schools try to celebrate Black History Month with appropriate curriculum, there generally is only enough time to cover a brief rundown of the most historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, MLK Jr., Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, and Madam CJ Walker. So, how about a quick understanding Juneteenth history lesson?
What Is Juneteenth?
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger led Union troops to Galveston, Texas, with news that those enslaved were officially free. While President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years prior, it was not until this point that Union soldiers were strong enough to enforce it nationwide. This date would henceforth be commemorated as Juneteenth.
Anyone remember School House Rock? Check out this clip from ABC’s Blackish that breaks down Juneteenth in that reminiscence style
Why Should You Care.
Today, 155 years later, our country continues to be plagued by systemic racism. Slavery and segregation may have been formally abolished, yet we still see the stains left behind. From lack of support, microaggressions, blatant discrimination, racial profiling to modern-day lynching, the black community continues to struggle within a society that has kept them oppressed for over 400 years.
The time for silence and complicity is over. We must take a stand and actively denounce racism in all forms. For until every American is able to live without persecution due to the color of their skin, country of origin, sexual orientation, gender identification, or religion, America will never be truly free.
How Can You Celebrate?
Juneteenth has traditionally been a day education, reflection, and prayer within the Black community. Here are a few ways in which you can participate:
- Listen: Take the time to listen to the Black community. You may not be able to understand their struggles firsthand, but you can learn from the stories they have to tell.
- Call out racism when you see it: This might not win you any popularity contests, but it might feel good to cleanse some of that negative energy out of your life anyway.
- Sign Petitions: It only takes a few seconds to sign, and it can make a world of difference. Here’s a list of a few you can start with from BLEU.
- Support Black Businesses: Branch out and support some of these businesses owned and operated by the black community or search for some near you. Click HERE and you just might find something you love.
- Donate: If you have money to spare, consider donating to some of THESE organizations and funds.
- Educate yourself: If you want to change the world, you have to start with yourself. I’m sure your Black friends would be willing to talk to you about these issues, but it can be exhausting for them. Check out this list of books, films, and podcasts that you can get started.
Now that you’ve gotten a basic understanding of Juneteenth, please remember this: Change does not happen overnight. Support can’t be limited to a day, a couple of weeks, months, or even years. We as a society need to keep making steps towards equality and justice until it’s achieved… We can’t just give up when it stops being trendy. In the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
For more information on Juneteenth, check out: https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm