It is Juneteenth in America. This holiday honors June 19, 1865, the day that Union soldiers rode into the state of Texas to inform the population that the continued enslavement of 250,000 African American human beings had been illegal in the United States since 1863 - for over 2 years! 250,000 human beings had spent not just one insufferable day more in slavery but over two more years. Before June 19, residents all across Texas had either ignored the fact of emancipation or simply were not informed. Either way, this was the last day that Americans would be held in bondage with impunity. This was the day that the United States of America took a huge step forward to fulfilling its promise of liberty for all of its citizens. In declaring Juneteenth a Federal holiday in June 2021, President Joe Biden said, “On this Juneteenth Day of Observance, we commemorate America’s dedication to the cause of freedom.”
“America’s dedication to the cause of freedom,” is a key phrase. America’s founding dedication, that we celebrate on July 4 - Independence Day - is to the cause of freedom, while on that original Independence Day, slavery was legal and an accepted and an integral part of the formation of America. Enslaved people cleared land, planted crops, cared for our children, built roads and were largely responsible for building the United States Capitol and the White House - the two greatest icons of American democracy and freedom. Juneteenth is America’s second chance at fulfilling our Independence. It is our second Independence Day, and as it commemorates America’s dedication to the cause of freedom, it must also give us all pause, to quietly consider both the weight and the joy of this day.
As a white woman in America, I have only a small window through which to understand either the weight or the joy of Juneteenth. I can cry for George Floyd, Emmett Till, the four little girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church. I can cry for Dr. King, Medgar Evers, and for so many other souls lost to hatred. I can also stand and cheer in celebration of freedom, but I will never know what it is like to worry every time my son or daughter is stopped by a police officer for driving while black. I will never understand the weight of redlining, or the myriad disadvantages African Americans face in education, healthcare, even just casting a vote. I heard an African American man on the radio talking about how exhausting it is to be African American in the U.S. This is a crushing notion, that just being a different color might leave you with a lifetime of exhaustion. And I don’t doubt this for a minute. It is so easy in so many ways to be white and we simply can not have a fulsome understanding of the trauma of living as a black person in America. But there are those among us who offer our open hands and hearts. There are those among us who recognize that the failure of fulfilling America’s dedication to the promise of freedom is on us, on white people. We have faltered in our efforts to hold our hands out to offer equality, solace or restitution. We have fomented fear and hatred of those with darker skin, when in truth those with darker skin are the ones who have suffered under the whip, the gun, the red line, the denied vote and the lynch mob. And, African Americans have suffered this baked-in degradation with grace, perseverance and a love of democracy. I see African Americans on the front lines of our current struggles with democracy as informed and tireless campaigners for the very best of America. They are not fearsome, they are not the enemy.
Juneteenth is a day to celebrate emancipation and to hope for a promise fulfilled. This is a foundational goal of all Americans - freedom. Juneteenth is a day when every white person in America should take the opportunity to wish an African American all good things in this world with sincerity and to advocate for voting rights, for economic parity, for healthcare and educational parity - for freedom. It is a day to recognize and applaud the beauty, intelligence and grace of the lived experiences of African Americans. White Americans need to step up to feel both the weight and the joy of Juneteenth - for freedom. As we do that we press on with this country’s dedication to independence and to the cause of freedom. When we step up to join African Americans in honoring Juneteenth, we join their efforts to make America a better, freer and more beautiful country.
This celebration of Juneteenth is felt strongly by all of us at History Chip. Foundational to History Chip is the desire to include all communities in history so that history is more complete and truthful. Juneteenth is a great example of a missing part of history. Lots of people had never heard of Juneteenth until it became a holiday. This highlights so clearly the importance of filling in the missing parts of history. We invite everyone to share stories on History Chip about life in their community. Today, Juneteenth, is a great day to testify to and honor the reality of life as only you have experienced it. Your stories matter and History Chip is here to honor and preserve your legacy.
Your stories matter!
--Jean McGavin, Founder, History Chip