This Saturday, Black communities across the nation will observe and celebrate Juneteenth. You may not have heard of this holiday, and if you have, it is possible that you aren’t certain of its significance, history, or how you might support and elevate Black community on this day. Also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Jubilee Day, Juneteenth is as significant to the fabric of American history as the 4th of July as it acknowledges and celebrates the liberation of an entire race from the clutches of tyranny. Here are a few things that you should know about this important American holiday.
A Brief History of Juneteenth
The Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, marked the technical and political end of the American Civil War and slavery; however, there is more to the story of the conclusion of this nation’s torrid affair with the ownership of stolen Black Africans. June 19th is a day of remembrance and national celebration dedicated to the date on which news of Lincoln’s proclamation reached the farthest corners of the Confederacy. It was on June 19, 1865, that Major General, Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with enough Union reinforcements to quash confederate resistance to, and enforce, the two-and-a-half-year-old Executive order of emancipation, freeing 250,000 remaining enslaved Blacks who had not yet received the news and were still under the violent and stubborn heel of Confederate oppression.
Texans in particular were defiant of the Emancipation Proclamation due to the threat it posed to the state’s labor force, means of production, and economic output. While some historians speculate that Union messengers bearing the news of freedom were murdered en route, others believe that, though delivered, the news was deliberately withheld from the enslaved to ensure the yield of one last cotton harvest, one thing is for certain: When news of emancipation, the news of freedom, reached the ears of the remaining enslaved Americans, what ensued may only be described as collective jubilation.
Those born or sold into an economy of human trafficking, valued only for their capacity to produce, reproduce, and galvanize their owner’s positions of power and wealth; those raped, brutalized, murdered, and otherwise subjugated in the name of confederate prosperity; those who lived never believing they would ever breathe a free breath, on June 19, 1865, were finally free.
Though they were the last to accept emancipation, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday in 1980, paving the way for 47 states to follow suit. It wasn’t until 2001 that Idaho officially recognized Juneteenth as an official holiday.
Today the jubilant spirit of Juneteenth lives on. At the core of each Black community (even here in Idaho), remembrance, celebration, personal and collective reflection are observed each June 19th. Through parades, community gatherings, cookouts, rest and recovery, music festivals, park parties, and family reunions, Juneteenth is a moment of acknowledgement of, not only Black liberation, but also, Black joy, Black prosperity, and Black community. It is a moment in which the communal reclamation of life and camaraderie is accomplished.
Often, Juneteenth celebrations and events are held exclusively for members of the Black community. This does not serve as an explicit method of exclusion for non-Black folks, but as a healing, meditative practice of holding community and family, while mourning and appreciating Black life through intimate connection.
While Juneteenth is a joyful celebration, it is also a day through which the realities of oppression are threaded as they are an inalienable facet of the biographic history of each Black American. Systemic racism and oppression are neither forgotten or forgiven on June 19th, nor is it forgotten that “freedom” wasn’t handed over without resentment or resistance. Rather, this day is an opportunity for Black Americans to remember Black lives stolen and appreciate, in earnest, their thriving community and those who are still here.
Juneteenth is also an opportunity for non-Black community members to educate themselves, become stronger allies, celebrate with, and respect the experiences and history of their Black neighbors. It is not a day on which the Black community is to be raised up as a monolith, but is a day on which difference and commonality, uniqueness of perspective and expression, unity, and the realities of a veiled collective past of Black Americans are to be elevated and honored.
What Can You Do to Honor Juneteenth?
In Idaho the Black population comprises less than one percent (0.7%) of its total and it may be difficult or uncomfortable to relate to or engage with the history and nuances of this holiday (remember, google is your friend here). Here are some small, tangible actions that can be taken to honor this holiday:
• Educate yourself on the history of Juneteenth and American slavery. While this nation’s past is riddled with facts that some would like to forget, understanding the obscene relationship the United States had with slavery and the enduring consequences thereafter. This may create a greater conceptualization of inequities and inequalities that plague this country still while building empathy for disparate experiences and truths.
• Recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. If you are an employer, honor your Black employees and their history by recognizing this holiday as a day of rest. Offer educational and support resources for non-Black employees to foster understanding and a culture of acceptance and inclusion in the workplace.
• Support Black-owned businesses and organizations. Even this small token of acknowledgement can go a long way to supporting highly minoritized and underrepresented community members here in Idaho.
• Donate to local Juneteenth celebration organizers. The scope of work such organizers do is tremendous, and it is made possible through monetary support by community members. You may donate to Boise’s 2021 Juneteenth celebration through the following means:
As Juneteenth 2021 approaches, we encourage you to reflect on ways that you might better support your Black neighbors, employees, friends and family while taking actionable steps to ensure the environment that you contribute to is one of kindness, honor, and respect.