Should We Celebrate Juneteenth?

Categories: Happy Holidays

Beck Juneteenth Picnic.jpg
Arthello Beck, Jr.
"Juneteenth Picnic" oil, 30 in x 24 in
I had lunch with Rev. Peter Johnson yesterday. He walked into CT's Real Deal Barbeque in South Dallas, shook my hand, and smiled.

"How was your holiday?" he asked me.

"Great!" I said. It was. I told him I spoke to my father for about 15 or 20 minutes, and I had even gotten a few texts and congratulations for being the doting godfather of a 2-year-old boy. Johnson froze, smile still plastered on his face, then nodded.

"That's good, son," he said, before changing the subject. That's when I realized he wasn't talking about Father's Day. He was talking about Juneteenth.

For those who don't know, Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865, the day Union General Gordon Granger announced in Galveston that Texan slaves were free. He also had 2,000 troops with him, just to make sure everything went smoothly.

President Lincoln gave the Emancipation Proclamation, of course, on September 22, 1862, which marks the date most slaves in America were freed. Texas, an outlier from its first breath, and still barely a state at that point, took almost three years to free its slaves, and only after Granger's threat of forceful coercion.

Juneteenth is technically a state holiday, observed in all but eight states today. And though celebrations do take place all over the country (there was a Juneteenth Festival in New York City's Harlem neighborhood this weekend), it's widely ignored. I'm a black kid born in D.C., and come from a family of fighters -- under the United States flag abroad in the Vietnam or World Wars, or under the banner of the Black Panthers at home. My family fought and bled for freedom and equality, and though "post-racial America" is a myth, I think in some places, at least, there's some semblance of equality. My best friend is white, my godson is Colombian and the first girl I ever loved is from the Philippines. Before I moved to Texas, I'd never even heard of Juneteenth. When I found out what it was, I was shocked. When I found out people celebrated it, I almost laughed.

I called a few people today about the holiday, which Dallas blacks celebrated Saturday in Fair Park at a star-studded cultural festival. "Up North, a lot have never heard of it. But Juneteenth was our Fourth of July," the activist Reverend Ronald Wright told me. "Truth be told, it should have been done years before."

I also spoke to Paul Quinn College's president, Michael Sorrell, a native Chicagoan. He's lived in Dallas for close to 20 years now. He doesn't celebrate it.

"It doesn't even make me mad anymore," he said. "It's just sad."

Juneteenth is among the darkest marks in Texas' and America's history, and it shows the full extent of arrogance, racial hatred and monetary greed. It also poetically captures the more recent history between blacks and whites in East Texas. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, though blacks were still fighting for those same civil rights in Texas more than 20 years after the fact. And today, just minutes south of NorthPark Center is South Dallas' food desert, where many of Dallas' minorities have to travel five, six, seven miles or more to buy the closest fresh head of lettuce.

Observe Juneteenth? Sure, so long as you know the bloody history that comes with it. Celebrate it? I'm not so sure.


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9 comments
rufuslevin
rufuslevin

maybe combine Juneteenth, Kwanza, and MLK, Jr. day ALL INTO ONE  BIG RACIAL LOLAPALOOZA EVENT....and everyone just get up and go out and get a job, and pay some taxes....do something other than eat, drink, dance, and yuk it up.

Mickister
Mickister

 I just now got around to reading this.  I guess you're disagreeing with me, but I don't quite understand why. The CSA was treated as traitors because they were, in fact, traitors.  They abandoned loyalty to the USA.  If the USA lost, they still wouldn't have been traitors.  They were never loyal to the CSA.  the USA may have been treated poorly but they wouldn't be called traitors. The colonies were traitors to the Crown.  Colonists engaged in rebellion against the Crown were killed in battle or executed.  Winning the war doesn't change the fact that the colonies were traitors in rebellion against their own country.

Tawnell Hobbs
Tawnell Hobbs

I'm from Ohio and, just like Greg, had never heard of Juneteenth until moving to Texas. Once I found out what it was, I was shocked that it was being celebrated. I'm black so folks in Texas were equally shocked that I hadn't heard of it. That was many years ago, and I still don't celebrate it.

Paul
Paul

 "If the Confederacy had won, the Union wouldn't have been traitors. " Had the CSA won, then they most definitely would not have been treated as traitors.  The CSA did lose and a number of CSA officials and others were stripped of their citizenship rights.  Arlington National Cemetery surrounds the Custis - Lee mansion, which as some people know was the home of Gen R.E. Lee.  General Grant purposefully selected this area for the ANC so that Lee would be constantly reminded of what Grant considered Lee to be solely responsible for. "And the United States played the role of traitor in the Revolutionary War even though it was the winner" And precisely because the colonies were successful in expelling British rule, the colonists were not traitors.

cp
cp

Robert E. Lee was a brilliant tactician. I'm pretty sure he personally wanted Virginia to stay a part of the Union, and was opposed to slavery. If he were as good a strategist as he was a tactician, the Confederates likely would have won the war. It's also why we celebrate another misunderstood holiday, Cinco de Mayo.

RTGolden
RTGolden

or, conversely, they might have been living someplace that has no reason to know what Juneteenth is.  Someplace like NW Colorado.  I had no idea what Juneteenth was until I joined the Army.

RTGolden
RTGolden

You are categorically wrong as to the motivations of the soldiers in the Confederate Army, just as you would be categorically wrong as to the motivations of the soldiers in the US Army who served in Iraq were you to say they went over there to fight for oil.   Soldiers serve for a number of reasons: Love of country, family honor/pride, a particular cause, religious conviction, etc.  Political leaders learn to camouflage their true motives behind one of these more altruistic ones.  There were Confederate heroes.  I say that as one who is a firm believer in Lincoln's motivations for the Civil War.  The motivations of southern political leaders does not detract from the heroism and bravery displayed by many of their rank and file soldiers.  A heroic act is defined by the act itself, separate from the context in which it is performed. Your vehemence toward the South's treatment of Blacks is well-justified, it should also be directed at the racism found, both then and now, in the North (look up sunset towns).  Just don't let it interfere with your understanding of heroism.

RTGolden
RTGolden

Nobody FROM Dallas knows how to drive.  The problems come when people who DO know how to drive properly insist on doing so.  Such irritating and time consuming driving habits like signaling to change lanes or turn, merging into your exit lane well in advance so as not to cause bottlenecking or accidents RIGHT AT the exit ramp and actually stopping at red lights seriously confuse the native Dallas driver.

Dr. Ronald Myers
Dr. Ronald Myers

Thanks for the Juneteenth article. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) has introduced legislation to make Juneteenth Independence Day a National Day of Observance, like Flag Day and Patriot Day.   "DOC" Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D. Founder & Chairman National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council (NJCLC) National Association of Juneteenth Jazz Presenters (NAJJP) www.NationalJuneteenth.com

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