By JAZMINE BUNCH
RCNH News Intern
As summer approaches, America finds itself in the middle of what some consider to be a modern-day civil rights movement. This comes following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota that was caught on video. The video shows a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes.
There has been a series of protests, riots, and demonstrations in honor of Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement, leading to a momentous move forward in the fight for justice and equality for black people.
To support the cause, many companies have taken this moment to show support for the death of Floyd and other black victims of police brutality by honoring Juneteenth as a paid holiday. While this step shows promise to some, there is still work to be done as many others are unaware of Juneteenth’s significance.
Every year in America, families head to the stores to grab their star-spangled paraphernalia and fireworks, light up the grill for a barbeque, or head to the beach to enjoy their extended weekend celebrating the federally recognized 4th of July holiday.
By day, the country is filled with Americans decked in red, white and blue celebrating America’s Independence in 1776. By night, the sky is filled with imitation bombs bursting in air commemorating America’s fight to freedom from the British.
But while many sit around the backyard barbeque celebrating the history of freedom, it’s imperative to consider that this day truly didn’t bring freedom to all Americans. On July 4th, 1776, when the Founding Fathers were signing the Declaration of Independence, the promise of “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” were not granted to African Americans, who were still enslaved and denied equality and citizenship.
Slavery was still legal on America’s Independence Day, and it wouldn’t be abolished until 1865 when the 13th amendment was passed.
To the black American, the 4th of July is yet another toil between the complexities of what it means to be black and American at the same time.
On June 19, 1865, a military officer read federal orders in Galveston, Texas proclaiming that all previously enslaved people were free, following Texas’s slow enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation issued two years earlier. This marks the American holiday known today as Juneteenth.
The history of Independence Day is a large chunk of American history curriculum taught in public schools. The 4th of July is a federally recognized holiday. But many people, African Americans included, aren’t discovering Juneteenth until well into their adolescent and adult years.
The holiday, also known as Freedom Day, Cel-Liberation Day, or Jubilee Day, celebrates African American history and the liberation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy.
Juneteenth is a recognized state holiday in 47 of 50 U.S. States, excluding Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota. With increasing awareness, Juneteenth is now celebrated across the United States with African American traditions such as public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs, and celebrating and uplifting art by notable black artists, writers, and composers.
Activists have long been pushing for Juneteenth’s recognition as a national holiday to the U.S. Congress. With the recent string of events, it’s possible that Congress will receive more pressure from activists, allies and supporters to nationally commemorate this day in history that comprises a major moment in America’s story.
As America moves forward in these unprecedented times, it is important that journalists and historians continue to document and report the holistic truths of our nation as a servant of the people.
Juneteenth 2020 is this upcoming Friday, June 19. While it is unlikely that the holiday would be nationally recognized before it’s arrival this year, informing Americans about Juneteenth is an opportunity to acknowledge a portion of our history that shapes our present, and bring forth dialogue that can promote change today.