Juneteenth, The Black American Holiday Everyone Should Celebrate But Doesn’t

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison

Yesterday was Juneteenth – but the country didn’t make a big fuss about it. Neither did a majority of Black Americans – for whom it is actually the true Independence Day.

Though the Emancipation Proclamation officially freed slaves in 1863, due to rebellious slave-owners who fled with their ‘property,’ many slaves did not receive news of their liberation until 1865, reported The Detroit News.

Therefore, June 19 marks the celebration of the de facto end of slavery in the United States. Unfortunately, the holiday is not revered like it should be. Yet on the fourth of July – a celebration that began when Black people were still in bondage – everyone breaks out their grills to gather and celebrate “the land of the free.”

In an article published in Slate, Jamelle Bouie details the history of the holiday and how newly freed slaves began its commemoration in 1866.

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Bouie wrote, “These celebrations would continue throughout the 19th century—growing in size and prominence—until the advent of Jim Crow and the aggressive repression of the early 20th century, when blacks were fully disenfranchised and outside the protection of law, vulnerable to the depredations of terrorists and lynch mobs. Put another way, it’s difficult to celebrate freedom when your life is defined by oppression on all sides.”

After such opposition, Juneteenth celebrations shrank in size and prominence. In later years its observance ebbed and flowed among Black people, but it still remains a “niche holiday.”

Bouie argues that celebrations should not be limited to Black people. He believes all Americans should commemorate Juneteenth and it should be recognized as an official federal holiday.

“Insofar that modern Americans celebrate the past, it’s to honor the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation or to celebrate the vision of the Founders. … Indeed, our struggle against slave power marks the real beginning of our commitment to liberty and equality, in word, if not always in deed. …Put another way, Juneteenth isn’t just a celebration of emancipation, it’s a celebration of that commitment. And, far more than our Independence Day, it belongs to all Americans,” Bouie wrote.