Juneteenth: What it means to me
Today marks 154 years since the last known slaves in America were declared free. On June 19th, 1865, enslaved Africans in Galveston, Texas were some of the last to get word of the abolishment of slavery despite the fact that that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed two and a half years prior. One explanation over the reasoning behind the two-year delay include plantation owners simply withholding the news (had to get that last bit of free work out of them). Nevertheless, all enslaved Africans in America were finally recognized as free people. Juneteenth is a day that is dubbed “black people Independence Day” and should be recognized and celebrated among black people of all communities. This monumental day in American history should be taught to all students from all walks of life despite skin color to get a better understanding of where we were as a nation, how far we have come and how far we still need to travel. But are our students, especially young black students, being taught this piece of important American History? In simple ebonic terms……nah, we aint.
What Juneteenth meant to me Then
Personally, I was not taught about Juneteenth in school. I did not learn of its existence and impact until my undergrad years in college. In fact, every piece of information I just wrote are from articles I read on my own time in recent years(I may even have to fact check later.) Like all American children in traditional public education, I received a very whitewashed depiction of American History that portrayed all caucasian historical figures as heroic and noble. We memorized and sang patriotic songs, Christopher Columbus was seen as an American icon and of course we learned about events that lead up to Independence Day. Every February, we received cookie cutter framing of black history. Slavery and The Civil Rights Movements? Even that was depicted as “not as bad as it sounds.” and “everyone picked cotton in the south.” I also loved hearing “get over it” and “let it go.” As a kid I always thought to myself that there had to have been more black people in history other than MLK, Rosa Parks and the peanut guy (I’ll throw Oprah in there too). We always celebrated the first black person to do something significant but never went into discussion as to why it took so long for them to be the first, despite America being established well before. Yet I carried along as a child unaware; I soaked in the information given to me and did not question one bit of it. I thought this was indeed history and that people who looked like me just didn’t make huge contributions to American society, failing to realize that those textbooks and curriculums were written by people who looked like them. Now this is in no disrespect to my teachers at all, I gave the benefit of the doubt and just blamed lack of resources and knowledge as to why I or my peers never received true black history(I later became a teacher at the school I grew up in, I’ll write something on that soon). On the other hand, with me living in south west, highly conservative, Arkansas with 100% of the teachers not looking like me, I should have known better then to think I was going to receive good quality lessons about historical contributions of people that did look like me. So in short, Juneteenth meant nothing to me because I did not know of its existence.
What Juneteenth means to me now
The contributions of those that came before me are deeply felt. Although I had to seek this information out on my own, I later learned that we in fact made strong contributions to American society and culture. I later learned about slave Robert Smalls who seized a confederate ship and sailed his way into freedom. I later learned about Black Wallstreet, a thriving area in Tulsa, OK comprised of all black owned businesses and ran by highly educated black people in which was later burned to the ground by white supremacists. I later learned that most black people during the civil rights movement supported gun rights in attempt to protect their black communities from government tyranny(some of the gun clubs were jump started by the NRA.) This doesn’t even tip the scale of the many other profound contributions black people has made in relation to American History. Now , Juneteenth means celebration: A celebration of the “last to know.” A celebration that every enslaved person in America could finally say “I’m free!” A true date of Independence from black perspective. I often get upset that I was either deprived of this information or my teachers just simply did not know of this black excellence. My mother never spoke of these figures which I assumed she did not know either. My grandmother actually lived during civil rights era so I’m sure many details of hardships growing up has been suppressed in the back of her mind. Having little black boys and girls reading and learning of the historical contributions of people that look like them can have a major impact on their attitudes towards learning. Most black youth do not see the relevancy in what they are learning due to the lack of representation of themselves in historical texts despite all the well documented history. To the enslaved Africans in Texas who had to wait two years after everyone else, you are deeply embedded in my heart. Although we as a culture are still battling against systemic racism, we continue to push through and fight for liberation.