Last updated on July 9th, 2021 at 11:15 am
Imagine, it’s Juneteenth. You’re amped to celebrate with all your friends. On the way to the gathering you get lost. Searching through your phone, trying to find service but the GPS won’t kick on, you notice two police officers on the other side of the street.
What do you do?
Do you walk up and ask them for help?
Maybe even politely request that they give you a ride to where you’re going (if they have the time)?
Because even though I’m 25% black (mother is half and half, father is white) I’m still very light skinned and always keep my hair short (when it grows long it gets SUPER wavy and…bi-racial looking).
Needless to say, I’m very passable as a fully white dude.
But, depending on how dark your skin is, you might have different feelings.
We all know what those feelings are.
Am I saying all white people, or all cops are racist? No.
What I am saying is that in the late 1400’s to mid 1500’s one of the greatest human rights violations to occur in the last two thousand years started.
Juneteenth is not just a celebration of the FACT that Africans (back then) and their descendents today are not only fully human, but fully American, and therefore deserving of all the rights and freedoms that Americans defend on a daily basis throughout the world.
That sobering truth should serve as the foundation of all the wonderful celebrating you’ll do today.
Why is Juneteenth Important?
What is the Juneteenth Celebration?
Juneteenth is the celebration of the emancipation of the last few remaining slaves in the union, who dwelled in Texas. The executive decree was given by General Granger who informed the people of Texas that the war was over and the slaves were now free Americans.
The Juneteenth Celebration is a Holiday that celebrates that African Americans are indeed American and not others, that they have the rights and freedoms given to all Americans within the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution of the United States of America.
The Juneteenth Celebration is a reminder for all Black people in the U.S. to fully celebrate and seize what was taken from African Slaves centuries ago.
Juneteenth Original Date
The original celebration date of Juneteenth is (June 19th, 1866). A celebration commemorating what happened a year earlier (in 1865) when General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas heralding the end of the civil war and slavery itself.
Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the (actual) emancipation of slaves in the United States. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln at the beginning of the year in 1863, it excluded (almost all) slaves who were not in states already occupied by the union.
In fact, Southern states still refused to allow “freed” slaves to marry, learn to read and write until 1865, when General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas heralding the end of the civil war and that all the slaves in the U.S. were free.
Juneteenth is the celebration of any noticeable change in the condition that slaves faced after the proclamation was signed by Lincoln two years prior.
Juneteenth Flag Explained
The original Juneteenth flag was designed by Ben Haith, Marketing Consultant of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation and Founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation.
- Star: The Lone star state, and also the freedom of all African Americans in the U.S.
- Date: The date General Granger informed Gavelston, Tx that the civil war was over and all enslaved people in America were now free.
- Nova: Nova is the term Astronomers use to signify the birth of a brand new star. “A new freedom, a new people, a new star”
- Arc: symbolizes the possibility to seize everything taken from them. The new horizon that lay ahead for Black people
- Colors: The foundation of racism has always been a sense of superiority and otherness. The colors of the Juneteenth flag represent that Black people are indeed American.
Why isn’t Juneteenth a National Holiday?
For several reasons, and not just political ones. Juneteenth isn’t a national holiday because of a mixture of two things: pure racism in areas that would revolt if they were forced to celebrate, and apathy on behalf of those who would celebrate it were they not burned out with the fight for black “humanness” which is commonly known as racial fatigue (Cornel West).
In a discussion on this very topic, Cornel West introduced the idea of racial fatigue. In a nutshell, racial fatigue means we’re all burnt out with dealing with this.
In an article she wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, Candace Harrison tells the story about how her mother felt apathetic to celebrate Juneteenth because of the apathy of others. She felt like nobody cared, so why should she?
In that same article, Candace begs her mother to acknowledge that nothing could be more important to this country than the emancipation of 4 million human beings. Apparently, her mother simply rolled her eyes and dismissed her daughter’s plea.
Racial fatigue is a very real thing. Feeling disheartened for so long leads to disillusionment, which leads to apathy.
Black people remember the struggle more than the emancipation. Many don’t have the confidence that the distance to true black liberation and acceptance could be bridged in their lifetime, and are therefore disheartened.
Were not encouraged to celebrate it either. Many of us didn’t know Juneteenth was even a holiday until the George floyd incident where everyone put it all over their instagram.
Number three: some of us are literally fucking racist. Our country’s priorities are set in stone, literally. Several states in the U.S. have a holiday for Jefferson Davis (the president of the confederate states during the Civil War) and, in the words of Ed Kilgore, “Celebrate racism in the name of heritage”.
“How deeply must a nation hate a people to carve their destroyers into the landscape in perpetuity?”– Walter Greason
All of this causes a lack of momentum. The idea of recognizing that our country did something wrong makes us take responsibility, and not enough of us are ready to accept that responsibility and its implications, which is obviously unfortunate.
That being said, 47 U.S. states of the 50 recognize Juneteenth as a ceremonial state Holiday. I say this with a bittersweet taste in my mouth, but it’s also very practical that it’s not a national holiday. Think about it.
On national holidays everyone gets off work. What do you think happens in areas where white supremacy is the norm, and they are forced to not work because of this “Juneteenth nonsense” that they don’t believe in?
Well, you get klan rallies, and a bunch of bigots with confederate flags pretending to march in the name of “preserving their way of life”. That’s a recipe for disaster for black folks. The last thing we want is a bunch of racists marching on a day where they, otherwise, have nothing to do.
That’s a valid consideration, unfortunately.
Black Experts Juneteenth Advice
The Juneteenth Spirit is Freedom
“(Juneteenth)…remains at its roots a celebration of freedom” – Mathew Delmont
Sometimes it’s beneficial to remind ourselves of the freedom and blessings we do have, rather than those we don’t. Take out your phone for a second and stare at it. How does the cell phone we all take for granted represent freedom?
Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but that news did not reach Texas for two years. That communication would have happened instantly today.
Be Solution Oriented / Stop being a Victim
“That strong mother doesn’t tell her cub, Son, stay weak so the wolves can get you. She says, ‘Toughen up, this is reality we are living in.’”– Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill has always had a special way of recognizing injustice and immediately bouncing toward a solution. Especially in times where her colleagues were content to complain, denounce, rant and rave, but never actually progress to a solution.
Peaceful protest has value, because it spreads awareness, but holding a sign never got any real or measurable progress for anyone.
Eventually you need to put down the sign and pick up the shovel. Remember that.
The Price of Prejudice
Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible. – Maya Angelou
Prejudice against anyone skews our perspective of reality and of events that occurred in our past. When this happens, being present with reality is impossible, we live in an illusion. When the present is contaminated the future is doomed, for both sides.
The Fallacy of Labels
“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.”Toni Morrison
You and I exist independent of any and all subjective imposition. What does that mean? It means someone else’s power to tell you who you are will never outweigh your ability to decide who you are yourself.
We decide who we are with the choices we make, the actions we take and the example we set.
Be Fiercely Determined to Win
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.” – Rosa Parks
When your resolve is firm, there are no other options but to emerge victorious, because you’re willing to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes.
Don’t bow to discouragement
“Just don’t give up what you’re trying to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” – Ella Fitzgerald
Juneteenth is a celebration, not a day of hate and blame. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom and a reaffirmation to stay in the fight as long as it takes. Rejoice and rejuvenate your spirit.
Fight, but take care of yourself
“Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.”Coretta Scott King
Holding a grudge is like living inside of your head rent free. If you’re stuck hating white people all the time you’re missing the point.
Your true Potential
“Whatever we believe about ourselves and our ability comes true for us.” – Susan L. Taylor
If you choose to surmount all obstacles, regardless of what they may be, and refuse to allow your circumstances to control your future, at that point, your potential is virtually limitless.
“We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.” – Jesse Owens, world record-setting Olympic athlete
Jesse Owens had the formula that allowed him to become one of the most famous track and field athletes in history, all while competing at the olympics in nazi germany.
Something tells me his formula will work for you too.
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. – Maya Angelou
Above anything and everything else, Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom. True freedom was very succinctly and exhaustively defined in the Declaration of Independence.
Because you were given value by your Creator, you have the right to live, to live freely and to pursue whatever it is that gives your soul wings.
With the minor nuance that you’re not allowed to keep anyone else from doing so.
On Juneteenth, take those rights that were stolen from you by unqualified masters and thrive in life with a little humor, compassion and style.
How to Celebrate Juneteenth
The best way to celebrate is to choose from a combination of activities that celebrate the freedoms you have now, embrace the freedoms (like reading and writing) that African slaves were stripped of, to embrace a positive environment that emboldens your spirit and (of course) wear your favorite clothing while singing, dancing and eating.
Juneteenth Celebration Ideas
Conceptually, the greatest celebration of such a holiday would be to embrace the freedoms that slaves were forbidden from having. Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating several things, including Black people being Americans and endowed with the same rights and freedoms that all other Americans are assumed to be given at birth.
Although my suggestions below might seem simplistic, they’re significance is deep when you really think about it.
- Get Introspective: Think about yourself, the world around you, and where you fit in as a force to be reckoned with. What is your unique position that you can occupy and truly make a serious difference.
- Fight the Sit-ins: I’m not the darkest person on earth, but I am of black descent, and I know what a black BBQ looks like…Maybe go to a fancy awesome restaurant and be a little cheeky. “Back then she was arrested for the sit ins” – Kanye West about his Mother
- Celebrate your ability to read: Reading was not only prohibited for slaves, but severely punished, which is devilish on several accounts. Humans are oral and literature (story) based creatures. What happens to your history when you’re not allowed to read. How can you learn and be empowered when you’re not allowed to read? Read that again.
- Show them how good of a writer you are: Same thing ^
- Inspire by giving a speech: Same thing ^
Celebrating Juneteenth doesn’t need to be something elaborate or complicated. In fact, the earliest Juneteenth celebrations centered mostly around food and dance.
Kevin Cockley, a professor at The University of Texas at Ausin who was named Top 25 Essential Black Voices on Mental Health and Wellness by Relevant Magazine, has this to say.
“Given the centrality of food to African American culture, celebrations usually feature food (e.g., cookouts, family reunions, outdoor parties, picnics, fairs). Additionally, there are typically lectures, presentations and exhibitions that showcase African American culture. Readings from prominent African Americans are also often featured.”
Early Juneteenth celebrations also consisted of playing sports, singing, gatherings where literature would be ready etc…
It is common in present times for smaller gatherings to be held in public facilities (where celebrations used to be forbidden) where the writings and ideas of prominent black artists are witnessed and read allowed.
Books and Movies about Juneteenth
Best books for Juneteenth:
The best books to read on Juneteenth would be books that will inspire a crowd when you read them, and stir your emotions when you read them silently to yourself: I recommend these books and articles: Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Love, and Tar Baby (all by Toni Morrison).
As you can see, I’m a huge Toni Morrison fan, but if you’re looking for more diversity you can try out:
- Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Deborah Willis
- The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology
- Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom by Charles A. Taylor
- Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
If you’re trying to get your children to read these books, try the Readability App – specifically designed to accelerate children to a high level of reading ASAP.
Best movies for Juneteenth:
In college I minored in Africana Studies, so I’m used to reading and studying a huge array of literature and media on Black….everything.
The best movies for Juneteenth in my opinion would “educate, celebrate and agitate” relative to the issues slaves faced from the late 1400’s and Black people face until now. I would recommend: Beloved, Amistad, Maya Angelou (And Still I Rise), Toni Morrison (The Pieces I am).
You could also try these out (movies/documentaries to watch on Juneteenth):
- When they see us by Ava DuVernay
- The 13th by Ava DuVernay
- Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland
- I am not your Negro
- Django Unchained
- Free State of Jones
- White like me
- 12 Years a Slave
9 Best Juneteenth Quotes
- “Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” — Toni Morrison
- We weren’t pushing Black is beautiful. We just showed it. – Katherine Dunham
- “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
- When you say ‘Black is beautiful’ you are saying, ‘Man you are okay as you are, begin to look upon yourself as a human being’. – Steven Biko
- “I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.” — Harriet Tubman
- “You may kill me with your hatefulness. But still, like air, I’ll rise.” — Maya Angelou
- “Frederick Douglass taught that literacy is the path from slavery to freedom. There are many kinds of slavery and many kinds of freedom, but reading is still the path.” – Carl Sagan
- “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.”- Frederick Douglass
- “You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.” – Booker T. Washington
Black Experts (on racism, African American history etc…)
- Walter Graeson
- Kwame Anthony Appiah
- Mary Frances Berry
- Stephen L. Carter
- Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Patricia Hill Collins
- Kimberlé W. Crenshaw
- Angela Davis
- Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
- Joy DeGruy
- Annette Gordon-Reed
- Angela P. Harris
- Ephraim Isaac
- Edmond J. Keller
- Randall L. Kennedy
- John H. McWhorter
- Rhonda Vonshay Sharpe
- Claude M. Steele
- Beverley Daniel Tatum
- Cornel West
- William J. Wilson