Don’t Forget About Juneteenth, America’s Other Independence Day
As Americans prepare to exit a long pandemic and spend time outside with their families and friends for the Fourth of July, there’s actually another celebration of independence that deserves a great deal of attention.
Juneteenth is the day Black Americans celebrate June 19, 1865. On that day in history, Union General Gordon Granger led 20,000 troops to Galveston and read from Order No. 3, which informed the remaining 250,000 slaves in Texas that they were freed and could now work for wages. Seeing as President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation two years prior, the reading of the order marks the day that some of the last enslaved Blacks in the country heard news of their own freedom.
The day was marked with celebration and has been commemorated annually in Black communities ever since. The celebrations usually include parades and cookouts, but the holiday took on a new meaning in the midst of the anti-police brutality protests in the summer of 2020.
As I wrote in Reason Magazine last year, Juneteenth, the protests, and the subsequent push to share more Black history and stories encompassed the spirit of Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech.
In 1852, the great orator called attention to the two Americas. He mused about the Black man’s role in celebrating America’s Fourth of July during an age where the enslavement of Black people was antithetical to the principles of liberty expressed in this country’s founding documents. And though slavery has since ended, American history is full of state-sponsored segregation that continues to negatively affect Black Americans.
While America continues to soul search, a good way to come together in the present is to celebrate the day when truly “All men are created equal” including the Black people who helped build this country.
How can you celebrate Juneteenth?
For organizations, it’s not too late to join a volunteer event in a local Black community, host a cookout or a barbershop listening session, or set up a table at a Juneteenth celebration.
For individuals, you can join a local Juneteenth celebration, visit a Black History museum or site via the National Park Service, give money to a Black restaurant or business, invite all of your friends and family over for a cookout of your own, watch the (free) James Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro“ and, perhaps most importantly, sign this petition to finally make America’s other independence day a national holiday.