Why do we celebrate Juneteenth, and how do we celebrate? It’s a question I was asked by a friend when I mentioned that we celebrate Juneteenth and have been celebrating Juneteenth every year for the past five years.
It’s not something that we’ve always done. You see, our independence day was usually the same as that of the rest of America. We’d celebrate on July 4th with the usual family get-together. However, I remember speaking to a friend of mine who asked why I didn’t celebrate Juneteenth. Now, it wasn’t because I wasn’t a black American, but more so because I didn’t even know Juneteenth existed. Just as I’m sure that many people of color didn’t.
But who doesn’t enjoy having a holiday? We love anything that brings friends and family together, with a meal involved, and allows us to create a sense of community. Holidays allow us to reflect on what’s truly significant about the day. After all, it’s about remembering where we came from, honoring the progress we’ve made, and looking towards a brighter and better future. However, Juneteenth is a relatively unknown holiday amongst many, but its significance should never go unnoticed.
So what is significant about Juneteenth?
Well, Juneteenth marks and honors the active end of slavery here in the United States and is a pivotal time in American history. Yet it goes by year after year, generally unknown and widely unappreciated.
Although the Civil War ended two weeks earlier, on June 2nd, 1865, and the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in January 1863, it wasn’t until June 19th, 1865, that General Granger’s order of legal emancipation reached even the rural areas. African Americans were finally able to receive a complete legal release from slavery. For many, it was also their first glimpse of freedom. Thus, June 19th was selected to celebrate the actual end of slavery.
However, even though all African Americans were freed on June 19th, 1865, we still continue to face hardships, injustices, and many obstacles even today in our communities. But for us, Juneteenth marks a day of promise.
So how can we, as black Americans, celebrate this day? Last year, we shared how you can celebrate black history month all year long, and they are valid for celebrating Juneteenth as well. But here are a few more ways you can also celebrate Juneteenth with your family.
1. Sing Songs of Freedom
Sing songs of freedom like “This Little Light of Mine,” which was the anthem for the Civil Rights Movement and inspired by the promise of liberty. “Go Down Moses,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Wade in the Water” are also great songs to teach the kids and sing along to. They reflect the horrors of slavery and their quest for freedom.
2. Read Books by Prominent Black Authors
Many African American authors have made a mark on the literary world, many of whom have won awards for their work. Juneteenth is a great day to honor the contributions of these great artists, such as Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and countless others. Reading their works is a great way to celebrate the holiday. You can check out some of their works in one of my most recent posts on black literary classics you should own. You can also take a look at Juneteenth books you should read, and Madison has some great recommendations on Juneteenth books for kids.
When it comes to holidays, you can’t forget the food. And just as the 4th of July means lots of BBQs, so should Juneteenth. What is a holiday without a good ole BBQ? The weather in June is also usually sunny, which makes it perfect for a cookout. Cook your favorite foods and introduce some new ones as well that have historical significance for this day. Foods such as fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas, and okra, and don’t forget the watermelon and red soda water.
4. Watch Movies Together
Movies are a great way to celebrate Juneteenth. Since the pandemic suggests smaller gatherings, you may have to leave the friends out for this one. Instead, gather your family together and watch movies that focus on our black history. Films such as Roots and Just Mercy are great to view on this day. Don’t forget the popcorn.
5. Join a Parade or Protest
Many US cities host Juneteenth parades. Due to the pandemic this year, things may be different than in years gone by. However, this is an excellent time to get together with the community and remember this important day in American history. Parades this year may be in the form of Black Lives Matter protests, and that’s ok too. Showing your support for the Black Lives Matter movement and debunking racism are essentially what’s needed at this moment.
Although the history of Juneteenth is based on slavery, it shouldn’t be about remembering the injustices that have happened amongst the black community. Instead, it should be a time of celebration—a time to celebrate our freedom and the rights that we’ve worked so hard to get over the years. So create long-lasting memories with your family and friends, and celebrate Juneteenth. Make it a day to remember forever.