I first learned about Juneteenth about 20 years ago. I was listening to radio station WVON 1690 and they had a guest on who was speaking about it. Juneteenth has always been a huge celebration in Texas, commemorating the arrival of Union troops into Galveston, Texas in 1865 two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, passed in January of 1865.
Those enslaved individuals, after learning they were free, put on their best clothes and celebrated their freedom. But believe me, the enslavers were not happy with the freedom that those Black men, women and children now possessed. Blood was shed along with it.
Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, having been signed into law by President Biden in 2021. The question now becomes, how will the rest of the country celebrate/honor Juneteenth? Even more important, how will Black people all over this country celebrate it? In my opinion, and based on historical precedent, it should be a day of remembrance of the pain and suffering our ancestors went through. It also should be a day of healing. It should be a day that celebrates the future. It should be a day of history lessons of the many aspects of slavery.
At the same time, if there was ever a holiday that should make people reflect on the senseless violence that is now being perpetrated — predominantly by young Black people — it should be Juneteenth. Each and every one of us who are the descendants of enslaved Africans carries their DNA in us. To know their suffering and to see their descendants becoming as inhumane as the enslavers they suffered under is appalling.
Many of the young people who are engaging in such senseless violence prove just how little of their own history they know. The history of slavery in this country is not a “one size fits all” story. And for me, there lies the problem. Black people don’t want to watch series like Roots or movies like 12 Years a Slave. Yet because many don’t really know their history, their perception of it is extremely narrow. Even the most learned disciple of Black history in this country will always find something new to learn. Juneteenth provides another occasion to reflect on the entire history of where we were and where we are going.
One of the other questions is how should the rest of the country celebrate this new federal holiday? Of course corporate America will see it as a chance to make more money. What are the definitive rules for celebrating Juneteenth? Will it become commercialized, with no reverence to it?
This country has never been perfect, but Black people have been a fabric of it, and therefore we are as entitled to this country as anyone else. Juneteenth provides an opportunity for us all to come together.
Arlene Jones writes a column for the Austin Weekly News, a Growing Community Media publication.