Growing up a proud American with a great sense of patriotism made July 4th one of my favorite holidays to celebrate. Parades, baseball, BBQs, fairs, and fireworks are some of my favorite childhood memories.
Oddly enough, I loved celebrating a holiday I didn’t fully understand. I knew why we celebrated it, but I had never experienced a loss of freedom nor understood what it meant to fight for it. I had the liberty to eat, shop, be educated, wear, live, and do whatever I wanted from the moment I was born. I was never stopped, questioned, detained, or punished for living out my rights. However, that’s not everyone’s story.
Regardless of being emancipated from Great Britain in 1776, not all Americans were “free”, nor did they have the liberty and justice provided to some. Despite being a “free” country, an estimated 400,000 people were still enslaved. It took almost 100 more years for Black Americans to gain their freedom, a freedom that is still challenged today.
The Emancipation Proclamation should have freed all slaves in 1863. However, it wasn’t until nearly two and a half years later on June 19th, 1865, that the final slaves were released in Galveston, Texas. On that day, the glorious celebration of freedom known as Juneteenth was born.
I never considered how July 4th negated the freedom of the enslaved and still negates the freedom of Native Americans until I was invited to a BBQ on a “random” Thursday in June of 2014. Upon arriving, I quickly realized this was much more than a midweek dinner with friends. This was a party, a celebration. As I began asking questions, I realized how ignorant I was to the other side of America’s story. I was embarrassed by my ignorance and grateful for the enlightenment.
I had many mixed emotions and questions upon leaving that evening, specifically, why isn’t June 19th a federal holiday like July 4th? After all, it marks freedom for everyone with Black ancestry which represents approximately 46.8 million Americans (Tamir, C. 2021).
Much of American history remains as skeletons in a closet and dirt under the rug. We have failed to record the accuracy of history by only telling the parts that make us feel good and sugarcoating the aspects that are hard to swallow. We have failed the integrity of history by muting the voices that tell the other side of the story. We continued to glaze over a painful past by failing to acknowledge June 19th as a federal holiday until this week in 2021.
Slavery ended 156 years ago yet Gen X and Millennials are the first generations born outside Jim Crow Laws and the Civil Rights movement, a movement born to combat the systems, governments, and laws created to keep Black and Brown Americans bound after slavery ended. What once seemed like a long time ago, doesn’t feel so long ago anymore, does it?
Much to my dismay, we have not come as far as I was taught to believe in school. Slavery ended 156 years ago yet Gen X and Millennials are the first generations born outside Jim Crow Laws and the Civil Rights movement, a movement born to combat the systems, governments, and laws created to keep Black and Brown Americans bound after slavery ended. What once seemed like a long time ago, doesn’t feel so long ago anymore, does it?
In fact, it only became legal for Blacks and whites to marry three months before my brother-in-law was born. This was pivotal, as he later married my sister in 1998. My generation was the first generation given the right to marry whoever we chose. Thank God, because I too chose to marry a Black man in 2009.
How far have we come in our pursuit of liberty, freedom, and justice?
Not far, considering Anne Frank and Martin Luther King are both younger than the current Queen of England (95 years old), the very country we were emancipated from 245 years ago.
Not far because we are currently seeing the first fruits of actual freedom outside of overt systems meant to oppress.
Not far because we are now working to dismantle covert systems that continue to suppress Black and Brown Americans.
While I wish we could become the nation our forefathers wrote about in the Declaration of Independence, bondage will always exist in America because it is stolen land. We can’t change history, but we can right-write our future to represent what it means to be created “equal with unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We can start by celebrating this weekend. This weekend should be celebrated by everyone as it marks our first steps in the right direction.
Happy Juneteenth! May this day serve as a reminder of how far we have come and how far we have left to go.
Tamir, C. (2021, March 25). The Growing Diversity of Black America. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2021/03/25/the-growing-diversity-of-black-america/