In this segment of Centric Commemorates, our colleague Briana Lynem shares her perspectives on Juneteenth.
Part of our Centric Commemorates series.
Juneteenth. Jubilee Day. Freedom Day. Emancipation Day. No matter what name you use to commemorate the 19th of June, it’s intended as a celebration. It marks a moment when slavery was not only eradicated in writing but effectively dismantled through broad awareness.
June 19, 1865, is the date that General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and informed enslaved people they were freed, approximately 2 1/2 years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863).
On that momentous day in June 1865, there was an uproar built on daring hope. The following year, the tradition was solidified, and song, dance, prayer, food and gatherings energized the newly freed men and women. Freedom Day is now the oldest Black American celebration. Blacks have endured much through American history, and this holiday observes those struggles while highlighting the tenacity of the Black spirit. The tradition must go on.
Today, many locales have customized Juneteenth while keeping its significance intact: freedom is a right of all people, including Black people across America, and we mustn’t forget. Just as we celebrate July 4th, we must acknowledge our independence from the dredges of slavery.
How will you recognize Emancipation Day?
As we continue our Centric Commemorates blog series, my former colleague and Centric Alumni Briana Lynem will share her perspective on Juneteenth.
— Introduction by Briana Johnson-Sims
“None of us are free until we’re all free.” – Emma Lazarus
Juneteenth marks the moment when emancipation from slavery finally reached those in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy. It marks the moment when over 250,000 enslaved people in Texas found out they had, in fact, been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation 2 1/2 years prior, but the news had just now reached them.
After a lifetime of prayer, dreaming and hoping for freedom, can you imagine the joy, the celebration of knowing you were now, legally, considered a freed person? June 19, 1865, reminds me we are only 156 years out of slavery and that freedom and justice has always been delayed for Black Americans. I often think about my Grandmother, who would tell me stories about spending time with her Great-Grandfather, who was enslaved as a child in Georgia. I think about the stories of my Great-Great Uncle who was forced to leave his home in Georgia and flee to Cincinnati, Ohio because he could read and write, and his mother knew he would be lynched if found out.
For me, Juneteenth represents deep reflection, it represents the passing down of oral stories from my elders, so I never forget my family’s past or how much my family members endured to survive and thrive. Juneteenth is not a day that was ever mentioned in any of the books I read in school, but through celebrations in my community and with my family, I learned to commemorate and celebrate the day that represents the liberation of my ancestors from bondage.
As a child, I would go with my family to the annual Juneteenth festival in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. The event included family activities like traditional story-telling, sack races, sweet potato pie bake-offs, live music (blues, African drumming and dancing, gospel, jazz, reggae, salsa), selling of artwork, clothing, and literature.
As an adult, the tradition of celebrating Juneteenth carries on, and each year friends of mine gather to hold a Juneteenth celebration where we dress in Kente (traditional African garb), listen to music, dance, eat and fellowship with each other to commemorate our independence, the day that the last enslaved Africans in the United States were finally aware that they were free.
For me, Juneteenth is a day to honor my ancestors, and it is a reminder of just how far we’ve come as Black Americans and how far we still have to go to obtain justice, equity and inclusion for all.
— Briana Lynem, Centric Alumni
Through these stories, we’ll seek to learn, understand, and empathize. We’ll celebrate our differences and realize that though we have varied backgrounds and perspectives, we are one team.