Juneteenth has two Born-On dates: one in 1865 and the other in 2020. In 1865, Texas enslaved people found out the emancipation proclamation occurred over 2 years earlier. In 2020, some people in the United States found out about what happened in 1865.
Juneteenth has just became a national holiday. Congratulations Juneteenth – look at you. Lil Juneteenth, you are out of control.
A lot of people knew nothing about Juneteenth before last year. President Trump takes credit for informing the world about it (according to him). “Nobody even knew about Juneteenth until I made it famous.”
From 1865 to 2020, Juneteenth was celebrated in a few communities across America, but it is mostly considered a state of Texas event. Juneteenth is not a part of any state’s history except Texas. When you consider how other states freed slaves in different ways at different times, the June 19th celebration doesn’t quite fit in everywhere. In modern times, states and regions have their own traditions for marking Emancipation: Crucially, these celebrations have different dates from place to place, because freedom was gained through wildly different ways for Black people across this country.
Some black communities have celebrated Emancipation Day on the 1st of January, because that was when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law (with the caveat that it applied only to enslaved people in rebelling territories — those in border states and territories in the Union, including Maryland, Missouri and West Virginia, among others, remained legally enslaved).
Black churches usually hosted those dates, with watch nights on New Year’s Eve melding together with communitywide celebrations on Jan. 1. The varied regional histories of Emancipation Day celebrations are a reminder that freedom in this country has never meant the same thing to everyone, has definitely never been experienced the same, and has always been conditional. Many feel that the agency that comes from deciding your own traditions becomes lost to a corporate calendar and a megastore selling you a Juneteenth cookout checklist. When a holiday becomes co-opted like this, those who can gain a sense of self and solidarity from celebrating it often lose it.
I don’t know many people asking for it to be a national holiday. Did black people trick white people into thinking we are that passionate about Juneteenth? We like it, but there were no marches or protest asking for the holiday. I think black folks were content with Juneteenth just the way it was and see little to no benefit to black folks now that it’s a national holiday.
Police reform is hard. Quality education is hard. Solving health disparities is hard. Equal jobs, pay and opportunity is hard. Voting is becoming hard. But, a Juneteenth holiday was a piece of cake. We didn’t even have to ask.
Should it have a different name? Should it be called Emancipation Day and celebrated on January 1st – oh no, there’s a Macy’s parade that day.
I sit and wonder what all the folks who want to believe slavery wasn’t a bad thing think of a national holiday that recognizes slaves were freed. I’m particularly speaking of the folks who keep the confederate myths alive. They must look cynically at the white people in Texas who were forcefully made to recognize the federal order to remove the behaviors of slave mastery over people of color in Texas under threat of force by the U.S. Army. The confederate reenactors would never have allowed that to happen in their states.
Confederates who lost the war came up with this new thing call ‘lost cause’ language, an interpretation of history designed to justify their defeat, absolve themselves for any guilt for starting the war and support the vindication of their prewar way of life. It’s okay to recognize confederate slave owners but not okay to talk about slavery. Civil war reenactments show violence to anyone who cares to watch but the violence of slavery is never on display. They believe slave holders were benevolent as if there’s a way to benevolently own another persons body, life, and future. They continue to deny the existences of millions of enslaved people.
More egregious and hypocritical then all that is the fact that tax payer’s money supports many of those monuments, museums, and cemeteries dedicated to the confederacy. For example, The Beauvoir estate, built in Biloxi, Mississippi, along the Gulf of Mexico, was the post-war home of the former President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis. Between 2007 and 2016, Beauvoir received $21 million. They receive $100,000 each year from the Mississippi state legislators to take care of the historic buildings. They continued to fund it in the same year they voted to remove the confederate emblem from the state flag. Nationwide, in the last 10 years, over $40 million has flowed to confederate sites and organizations. There’s no shame in their game.
There was a lot of tension last summer when 160 confederate monuments and symbols came down due to protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd. However, about 2000 of those monuments remain. Segregationist, slave owners, conquistadors, and confederate soldiers are on display in many places while Juneteenth becomes a national holiday we all are encouraged to celebrate.
I guess Juneteenth is here to stay. Even black folks recently introduced to the holiday are still figuring out how to celebrate. Should we have a cookout, parade, go to the shore, have a church service, read Frederick Douglass’ speeches, do Harriet Tubman freedom reenactment, take underground railroad tours? Will the holiday become commercialized like all the rest with department store sales, exchange of gifts, a new outfit and a Hallmark card?
One thing is for sure – there’s a cultural war over American identify and history. History is still being erased and distorted. If you take the time to try to make sense of it all, a Juneteenth holiday makes modern American history just as confusing as the event it’s suppose to be celebrating.
Will everyone get the day off with pay on Juneteenth Day from now on? Will Chick-fil-A be closed? The biggest irony will be if department stores have a White Sale?
Ahhhh, it’s a holiday. Don’t worry about the details. Be a proud American and go enjoy yourself.