Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday by President Joe Biden on June 17, 2021. While the historic day is now recognized as a federal holiday, not all Americans know about the significance of Juneteenth, and if they do, they may not be aware of the importance it holds to the African American community.
Juneteenth acknowledges the strength slaves endured from start to end — the same strength that is displayed at every march, sit-in and protest. The holiday acknowledges June 19, 1865, the day when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War ended and those enslaved in Texas were now free.
This was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. While the proclamation may not have necessarily freed all slaves at that particular time and place, as it only applied to states under Confederate control, it did kick start change.
That change came when the news that slaves were declared free finally reached Texas. Union soldiers were stationed to enforce and spread the word, making Texas the last Confederate state to have the proclamation announced.
During this time there were instances where slave owners refused and ignored the demand to release their slaves, this was easy for them as many slaves were illiterate. For those who could read, once they acknowledged they were finally free, they traveled up north to escape the conditions of the south. Others stayed down south in what may have been fear of the unknown.
All that really mattered was that they were now free to do and go wherever they pleased.
While Juneteenth was the official day of freeing slaves in Texas, giving hope to a race that was stripped from their entire being for generations, it also made room for them to prosper and find their own culture — one that didn’t revolve around living in slavery and fear.
However, the Emancipation Proclamation was just a political move made with the sole purpose of angering the south and with the intention of seizing all its resources. The freeing of slaves was just convenient; they were only freed because those in the north believed that since they themselves did not benefit from slaves, it was "immoral" for someone else to.
After Texas slaves were freed, there were carelessly dumped into society with no regard or help now that they were living without their masters. Some willingly chose to stay on the plantations and “work” the fields for little pay and a place to live since the cotton fields were all they knew.
They were sadly roped back into what was legally another form of slavery known as the Black Codes and sharecropping, both ploys created by the Confederacy to reassure its dominance once the Union soldiers left. On the bright side, Black people who moved upward took their newly found freedom and settled into areas that would help better themselves. They educated themselves, found jobs and homes, but most importantly, started building a life.
It is hypocritical for Juneteenth to only now be recognized as a federal holiday, especially since states across the country, including Texas, seek to ban the teaching of critical race theories in classrooms.
The government is treating us like children, giving us a lollipop so that we will turn our backs and ignore the irony of curriculums like Project 1836 which will cover Juneteenth, however, the depth and accuracy of how Juneteenth is taught will depend on committee members appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan.
In reality, the Emancipation Proclamation was just a bunch of words on a piece of paper that meant as little as the next person. However, in schools, it is taught as this magical legislation that immediately freed all slaves in the south, and that slaves all lined up to praise and thank Lincoln as if it inconvenienced him to do the human decent thing of freeing Black people.
But the reality isn't so picturesque.
Our ancestors were dragged onto ships like cattle and thrown over the sides of those ships as if they were just another rock on the road. Once they touched land, they were sold and separated from their families while mothers cried for their children.
Our ancestors were poked and prodded like merchandise fresh off a boat, sexualized for their "exotic" features. But, sure, here's a federal holiday to make up for all that.
We are never taught the full extent of our past, only what paints America in this superhero complex as if it was the one helping everyone. African Americans still had to fight nail and tooth for basic human rights that were explicitly stated and acknowledged in the U.S. Constitution. We were the ones who had to take a stand for other races and women to ride our wave in demanding equality.
While it is possible that acknowledging Juneteenth as a federal holiday could be the start of righting wrongs, we cannot continue to blindly follow a history that has been forced upon us.
Just like MLK Day, to anyone outside the Black community, all Juneteenth will be viewed as is just another day off from school and work with little to no importance or celebration made.
The national observance of Juneteenth could be the step needed for the Black community to finally grow the courage to separate and thrive as we once did before government involvement. We need to reestablish Black Wall Street and stop having to finesse a system to work in our favor, especially since it was never ours to begin with.
Their freedom and struggles were never directly ours to bear, as I stated their freedom (not even the same sense of freedom since their oppressors were literally separated by an entire ocean that took months to cross — but I digress) came 87 years before ours did.
I want to believe recognizing Juneteenth came from a good place with good intentions, but hope can only go so far with the American system and all that stands behind it — even Dr. Martin Luther King began to see and understand that there were times that called for resiliency. Toward the end of his life, King acknowledged Malcolm X's stance on fighting back as he was tired of seeing his community continue to struggle and be killed with no true change made.
But for now, Juneteenth is a holiday that honors the independence of slaves in Texas that endured two and a half more years of slavery before finally receiving their freedom.
This is a day made to celebrate the freeing of an entire race, and all the trials and tribulations that had to be made, and continue to be made, to reach a better future. Hopefully, we will continue to keep the pressure and educate ourselves as time goes on.
- Jackie Broussard is a journalism sophomore
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