Editorials, Opinion

How to celebrate Juneteenth

Today is an odd confluence of holidays: The beloved perennial Father’s Day and the new-ish (at least to the official registry of national holidays) Juneteenth.

We, of course, wish all fathers and father-figures a happy Father’s Day.

As for Juneteeth, this is only its second year being recognized, both federally and statewide.

Juneteenth commemorates the day Gen. Gordan Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, technically freeing the last of the slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two years before, but the lack of Union soldiers’ presence had made Texas a safe haven for slaveholders.

However, on June 19, 1865, about two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Granger read aloud General Order No. 3 in the town square, declaring: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

The first Juneteenth was celebrated in 1866, but its prominence has waxed and waned over the past 150-ish years. It was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, fell out popularity for a while as standardized education for all children all but erased June 19, 1865, from history, rose to prominence again during the years of the civil rights movement, fell by the wayside again for a few decades, then once again rose to significance in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020. (Was that two years ago? It feels like a lifetime and a blink of an eye at the same time.)

Juneteenth strikes us as a kind of Independence Day: generally celebrated joyously but built on something solemn. A day of community centered around fun and food but underpinned by struggle and loss.

Or maybe not a kind of a Fourth of July … Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a referendum on Independence Day. Juneteenth: a day when “freedom” began to finally apply to people of color. And we say “began” because the freedom that white people enjoyed for centuries still did not fully apply to people of color until nearly the end of the 20th century — though many would argue it still does not fully apply.

If you Google search for “how to celebrate Juneteenth,” you’ll get a variety of articles and links suggesting myriad ways to celebrate. But most of the recommendations have two things in common: knowledge and acknowledgment.

Those who traditionally celebrate Juneteenth want the rest of us to use today to face the hard and hidden truths of what it has meant to be a person of color in this country. To understand the brutality Black people endured for centuries, the oppression that kept thousands in bondage long after President Lincoln emancipated them and the exhausting fight to make “we, the people” apply to all of America’s people.

And they want us to see all the amazing things people of color have contributed, are contributing and will continue to contribute to our country.