Juneteenth: A Sacred Celebration

celebrating freedom and emancipation juneteenth

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 on June 19 when enslaved people in the United States, in Texas, learned that they had been freed, roughly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Known to some as, the second Independence Day.

On that first Juneteenth in Texas, and increasingly so during the ones that followed, free people celebrated their resilience amid the failure of emancipation to bring full freedom.

In depth—minus the not-so-textbook version, we celebrate the liberation of our ancestors who fought for centuries for emancipation. Que speeches, sermons, and shared meals, mostly held at Black churches, the safest places to have such celebrations.

In honor of our faith, courage, and struggle, we continue the fight to realize our full dream of liberation—And respectfully please keep the commercialization out of it.

To make it make sense. Last year, in the wake of the previous summer of protests. After the murder of George Floyd. Juneteenth became a federal holiday. To be honest that evoked a sense of pride that a day about Black history would be honored. But also trepidation that the day would lose some of its cultural potency and succumb to commercialization. Insert pit in my stomach here.

Surely, you’ve seen it for yourself. Down the aisles of your local big-box stores like Target and Walmart. And even heard about it via Apple Music, which created a Juneteenth playlist.

I suppose on some level, that’s just inevitable with Federal holidays. But seriously. With this one, we would prefer to sit out. To avoid the cookie-cutter commercialization of it all. It’s more sacred than the cringe merch of plastic trinkets with the brown fist glued on a gem in the front of aisle 5.

Not to get all pull-up-a-chair-sit-down-class-is-in-session on you, but educating yourself and having compassion is key!

Enshrining Juneteenth as a national holiday makes it more likely that all Americans learn not only about the day itself but also about the legacy of enslavement.

Let’s ugly truth face the facts here. Juneteenth is more likely to interrogate the very notion of freedom and examine the imperfections of the emancipation order.

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Quick History lesson because hey, the more you know, right?

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, freeing enslaved people held in the states that had seceded, not in the states that hadn’t.

When the proclamation was issued in the middle of the Civil War, only a small number of slaves were actually released. At the time, the main purpose of the order may as well have been, dare we say a propaganda tool.

As historians have long documented, emancipations did not remove all the shackles that prevented Black people from obtaining full citizenship rights. Nor did the emancipation prevent states from enacting their own laws that prohibited Black people from voting or living in white neighborhoods.

From back then to the present day, it’s more than just a national holiday.

Our freedom stands for the end of debt bondage, racial policing, and discriminatory laws that unjustly harm Black communities. We celebrate and elevate our collective imagination from out of the spiritual sinkhole of white supremacy and property rule to authentic, sacred celebration.

Juneteenth calls for a pause as much today as ever before. We revel in black joy as we seek to redress slavery and celebrate hope mined from a different vein of human experience.

We are celebrating freely functioning in a system designed to keep us obedient, invisible, and disenfranchised. Celebrating our strength, and that we can fight, tooth and nail, be it for our communities, our rights, our children, our health, our justice systems—and yes, for our country.

Celebrating that we can freely move forward after witnessing one brutally televised police-related murder after another. And celebrating that we can bend a knee, but still be unbowed.

Juneteenth is the freedom firecracker of our human emotions to keep our history alive. Put some respect on our melanin. Please.

Words By Jasmín Nelson


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