There is a common misconception among Americans that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves with a stroke of his pen. Yet the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, did no such thing — or, at least, it didn't do a very good job of it. Two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers sailed into Galveston, Texas, announced the end of the Civil War, and read aloud a general order freeing the quarter-million slaves residing in the state. It's likely that none of them had any idea that they had actually been freed more than two years before. It was truly a day of mass emancipation. It has become known as Juneteenth.
In recognizing the history of American freedom, advocates say, Juneteenth is as deserving of recognition as Independence Day. "We may have gotten there in different ways and at different times," says Meyers of blacks and whites, "but you can't really celebrate freedom in America by just going with the Fourth of July."
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote "Juneteenth should be more important to Black people than the 4th of July because when the Declaration of Independence was signed, the words did not apply to Black people."
The other day a black friend came by while I was researching to write this post and asked what I was doing. When I told her she asked, “Could you please tell me what Juneteenth is about? Is it just about having a picnic? She was serious and I was surprised. I just assumed that all black people knew what Juneteenth was about. Later that night I did a search on Tweeter to see what people were saying about Juneteenth, and once again I was surprised to find about one in four black tweeters where asking what Juneteenth was about. I felt sad because I agree with Frederick Douglass’ view that this holiday should be more important to black people than the Fourth of July.
Juneteenth celebrates the struggles of black Americans to free themselves from bondage, it celebrates and encourages self-development, respect for those ancestors who came before, and to acknowledge and never to forget their sufferings, for young people to never forget their roots, and to take pride in their place in this society, this country, this world, as well as to develop a respect for other people’s cultures.
Most Juneteenth celebrations include Juneteenth parades and festivals usually held in parks. The festivities and food of the early Juneteenths involved a range of activities that still continue to this day:
-Prayer services-Guest speakers, which involve community elders who recount the past
-Singing and dancing
-Barbecue (meats such as chicken, pork and beef)
-And always the ever-ubiquitous strawberry-red soda (”Big Red” soda)
So all I can say to my friend is, Yes, Juneteenth is about more than having a picnic! And yet, red pop and watermelon seem like refreshing ways to celebrate the day. Just as freedom must have been refreshing after all those years of slavery. So have a picnic, drink your red pop, eat your watermelon and enjoy your freedom.