America is celebrating Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the second year.
Celebrated on June 19 each year by African Americans and considered the community’s Independence Day, the day is set aside to celebrate the end of slavery in the U.S.
The oldest known celebration of its kind, why did it take so long for the country to join the party?
It has long been argued that African American history is American history. But the inclusion of this community’s special days takes years to be added to America’s calendar.
There’s always a party pooper or two. As with the call to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday, the invitation to the nation to observe Juneteenth took a long time to disseminate.
Opal Lee, “the grandmother of the movement” to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, got the party started early. Some would argue that it was a part of America’s racial reckoning and well past time.
President Joe Biden signed it into law last year, making it the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday was approved in 1983.
June 19 is the day that the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, in 1865.
America’s Civil War had ended by that point, as it took two and a half years to spread the news of Lincoln’s proclamation that “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
By that point, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution had been approved by Congress on Jan. 31, 1865, and slavery was officially abolished in the U.S. upon its ratification by the three-quarters of the states later that year, on Dec. 6, 1865.
African Americans were free, but the good news didn’t travel fast. In fact, some enslavers didn’t share the news but kept it to themselves.
They forced African Americans to continue working under inhumane and unjust conditions until Union troops arrived in Galveston and informed them, on June 19, 1865, that the war had ended in April and all former slaves were now free.
Celebrated on a Sunday this year, Juneteenth is also called “Emancipation Day,” “Freedom Day” and “Jubilee Day.” True to form, America’s big businesses are trying to capitalize from it.
Walmart had a notable failure. Despite packaging it in red, green and gold, it wasn’t well received. Social media influencers criticized the company for being out of touch, offering a product that reflected a poor attempt at cultural appropriation.
The company apologized and removed the “Celebration Edition: Juneteenth Ice Cream” from their freezers. Because who asked for this flavor?
The celebration isn’t an occasion to make money. And attempting to make money from something so meaningful to African American people – their freedom – is tone deaf to say the least.
Juneteenth celebrates the freedom from making money off African American bodies and their labor.
The American urge to sell something – no matter the occasion – is at least half the problem. Are we only willing to celebrate each other’s accomplishments once we have figured out a way that it is of benefit to us?
I think the other half is a misunderstanding of what freedom truly is. It is not something that should ever be fought over, as it is the natural way of human being and belonging.
Despite the claims of the sociopolitical construct of race, no human being or cultural group was created to be ruled over or supervised. We were created to only have eyes for freedom, which is why for oppression to work there must brute force, cultural assimilation and traumas of all kinds.
Oppression is not normal and requires evil manipulations of all kinds, because freedom is not something that we can define for another human being.
Categorizing and containing each other by social colors, we have no idea the breadth and depth of it. The word really doesn’t fit on a sheet of paper.
It is not the right of any human being to determine the freedom of another — as if oppression can bind not only the body but also the heart and soul of another.
Still, oppression binds us all.
Civil rights activist and community organizer Fannie Lou Hamer delivered a speech at the Founding of the National Women’s Political Caucus, Washington, D.C., July 10, 1971, where she said, “Nobody’s free until every body’s free.”
Perhaps Americans are finally realizing it, and this is why they’re ready to throw a party in celebration of Juneteenth.