If you are new to Juneteenth, you are not alone.
What Is Juneteenth?
In 2021, Juneteenth became the newest federally recognized holiday, the first since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. That same year, a poll done by the New York Times found that over 60% of Americans knew “nothing at all” or “only a little bit” about Juneteenth.
Ignorance of Juneteenth is by design – in the same spirit of guilt, fear, and politeness that books are being banned in 2023; Juneteenth and its impact were scrubbed from history books for decades.
The first 7 minutes of this video describe the concept of chattel enslavement before diving into further connections about the impact of our history on our present.
Juneteenth, which is short for June 19th, 1865, is the anniversary of the release of over 250,000 individuals from chattel enslavement. While some leeway can be given for the lack of technology in 1863, the prolonged captivity was due to those in power choosing to not share the news of the Emancipation Proclamation and/or abide by the Proclamation. To add to the trauma, some enslavers even trafficked individuals across state lines into Texas to prolong their captivity. On this day, in 1865, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and read General Order Number Three, which delivered the news that they were freed. The 13th Amendment, which constitutionally ended slavery, was ratified in December of 1865.
Juneteenth In Descended Communities
Juneteenth, which is often celebrated in predominately Black and African-American communities, is vibrant and diverse, embodying the spirit of unity, community, and education. Parades, cookouts, musical performances, art exhibitions, and historical reenactments form integral parts of these celebrations. Families and communities come together to share stories, partake in cultural activities, and foster a sense of pride and belonging.
Juneteenth extends beyond its historical context and carries immense contemporary significance. It serves as a reminder that the fight for equity and justice is ongoing. Juneteenth prompts critical conversations about systemic racism, social justice, and the continued struggle against inequality. Observing Juneteenth can spark further advocacy and action toward dismantling discriminatory practices and promoting inclusivity.
In recent years, there has been a nationwide movement to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday in the United States. This recognition would elevate the significance of Juneteenth and provide an opportunity for all Americans to learn and engage with this important historical event. The designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021 was a significant milestone, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging and commemorating this day on a national scale.
Flags and Symbols
Every part of the Juneteenth flag was chosen for a reason, even down to the familiar color scheme.
The white star at the center represents Texas, the Lone Star State, as well as representing freedom for people of African descent in all 50 states.
The bursting outline around the star is inspired by a nova, the astrological term for a new start. It’s presence on the Juneteenth flag represents a new beginning for the African American people of Galveston and the rest of the healing country.
The curve represents a new horizon and new opportunities for people of African descent.
The red, white, and blue color palate is a direct representation of the United States flag, and a reminder that enslaved individuals that were brought to America and all their descendants were, and are, American.
Foods used to celebrate Juneteenth tend to align with traditional soul food, but there is a focus on red foods. Juneteenth holiday menus often include red velvet cake (or cupcakes), hot links, watermelon, strawberries, and red punch. The red foods represent the bloodshed and resilience of the survivors of chattel enslavement.
I’m not a descendant of an enslaved individual. How can I commemorate?
Even if you are not the direct descendant of individuals who were enslaved, you can still commemorate Juneteenth and honor all of the lives that were disrupted by the chattel slavery trade. Here are a few we invite you to get started with:
- Watch a movie or read a book about slavery and the impact it still has on the United States. While mentioned above as ending slavery, the 13th Amendment actually has a loophole that still allows slave-like conditions to be a form of punishment. 13th on Netflix is a good place to start! The New Jim Crow is a book that explores the same topic.
- Support Black-owned businesses, creators, and entrepreneurs. If you don’t have any extra funding right now, support with a referral, introduction, or social media shout out.
- Go to a local Juneteenth celebration! Dive into US² Core Principle #6, if needed, and get uncomfortable for your own growth and learning!
You can find more ideas to commemorate Juneteenth below:
- 28 Ways To Thoughtfully Celebrate Juneteenth (2023) | GoodGoodGood
- How To Celebrate | Juneteenth.com
- How to properly celebrate Juneteenth in the age of commercialization | NPR
Turn your intentions into your impact!
While Juneteenth is a federal holiday now, that does not mean the work of racial justice is done. Learning about racial injustice is one thing, and making a plan to do the work is great! However, doing the work of unraveling your bias takes intentional action and community support. Build up that community by sharing this with a friend, coworker, or family member.
We invite you to reflect on your experiences on Juneteenth in whatever way is meaningful to you. Whether you grew up celebrating, learned about it in grade school, studied it in college, or learned about it for the first time reading this blog post, think about what today means for you with regards to freedom and liberation, and how to ensure a just and equitable future for us all.