Understanding joy of Juneteenth officially becoming national holiday

William T. Robinson, Jr.

The African American community in many cities and states has always celebrated Juneteenth as a day of jubilation, officially commiserating their emancipation from slavery. It didn’t matter if our former oppressors refused to honor or acknowledge the day. It was okay, because they could never begin to understand the significance and relevancy it meant for us as a people—a people who had experienced being enslaved, dehumanized, brutalized, raped, and denied basic liberties since brought to the soil of this country.

Maybe our joy and jubilation only fueled some Southerners’ anger and indignation at the loss of their free labor and chattel property ‘rights’ that were the source of their prosperity and wealth. One may argue that slavery (while morally wrong) has existed since the beginning of time, but the extent of its cruelty and abuse in this country was unrivaled.

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, freeing all the slaves in those Southern states rebelling against the United States (the Confederate States). But make no mistake: this was not a benevolent act. It was a calculated strategy to cripple the Confederacy. But regardless of the reasons, those enslaved felt like their prayers had been answered and they had been delivered. However, it took two and a half years until June 19, 1865 for the news to reach the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. Therefore, the official day of the end of slavery in Texas, June 19, 1865, became known as Juneteenth.

Some liken the end of slavery to the Biblical deliverance of the enslaved Jews from Egypt through an exodus led by Moses. Can you imagine the enslaved Jews and former slaves’ elation and jubilation from bondage to freedom? Being free after being enslaved can be nothing short of hope and prayer being fulfilled.

Another example might be how the early Americans felt after their independence from England. Blacks at that time, however, were enslaved and thought of as mere property. Yet, they were still Americans. But we as Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, collectively acknowledge and celebrate July the fourth as Independence Day. Many find it ironic, though, that those Anglo Europeans who had just gained their own independence showed so little concern (if any) of the enslavement of African Americans at the time.

One can only imagine how it felt as a freed slave to feel like a ‘whole person’ no longer subjected by law to honor your master. You and your children could no longer be sold and separated. Your wives and daughters could no longer be legally raped. You could no longer be physically brutalized and legally killed at the whims of angry slave masters. You could leave and build a better life elsewhere. The truth of the matter is that many of these atrocities secretly or often blatantly continued, fueled by Whites angered by the end of slavery and their way of life.

There were laws that were supposed to protect freed Blacks as well as federally backed programs to help get them on their feet. But they were futile when not enforced. The ‘laws’ were sabotaged by Southern racists, still advocating for White supremacy. Southern states reeling from the loss of the war and the freeing of the slaves found other ways of making life hell for former slaves through discriminating laws and codes that literally continued to keep former slaves in some type of bondage. However, Blacks have always been a persevering, resilient people rooted in a faith that refused to rob them of their will and desire to rise above the storms of life.

Juneteenth is a celebration that reminds us that we are blessed and highly favored. As children of God, He has our backs—no matter how dark and gloomy the circumstances may be. We were once relegated as inhuman, chattel property lacking souls. But during Juneteenth celebrations, we manifest the spirit of who we are: viable, loving, creative, and productive human beings. We showcase our talents, gifts, and culture through dance, song, poetry, art, food, parades, and social collaborations. This is a day for African Americans as well as the nation to appreciate, celebrate, and honor African Americans ascension from being enslaved to being free Americans. During Juneteenth celebrations, Blacks are united as families, communities and sharers in supporting Black-owned businesses as well as acknowledging African American achievements and accomplishments.

While Juneteenth (arrived from combining ‘June’ and ‘19th’) has always been celebrated in some cities and communities since June 19, 1985, it is now a national holiday that catapults it to a national level with all the recognition and amenities given to other national holidays. Now that it has attained nationwide attention and exposure, those once unaware of Juneteenth (even some Blacks) have no excuse not to celebrate this holiday.

America should be proud because this special celebration has finally been recognized as a legitimate part of our history. It should be relished, appreciated and celebrated by all. This is a national Holiday that is especially significant to African Americans and to American history.

This year, Juneteenth was nationally highlighted with parades, concerts, activities, celebrations and commemorations honoring outstanding African Americans. It is destined to only become bigger. African Americans ‘rock.’

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