How I learned about Juneteenth and how it relates to American History
In my opinion, we all can use the word “Free” in our vocabulary for different conversations and situations daily. For example, in our national anthem, we promote that we are in the “land of the Free”. We also celebrate and memorialize our Veterans for keeping us Free with their lives in war and combat. And of course, we can hardly turn down anything that is considered Free in our daily lives. As I began to research Juneteenth, which is the nation’s oldest commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States when Union Army soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and notified the last remaining slaves in the South with the news that all slaves were now, and had been Free for two and a half years. I also learned that depending on the area of the country that you live in, you were taught something or nothing about Juneteenth.
It has been enlightening learning how Juneteenth is recognized across the different geographic areas of the United States. One observance or way to recognize Juneteenth that I learned is called “Watch Night”. Many people of the East coast focus on remembering Dec 31, 1862, which is the day before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Therefore, Jan 1, 1863, was something to be remembered. Unfortunately, the slave owner practices in Texas and other places continued to enslave African American ancestors who were non-immigrants and ultimately became victims of Europe’s illegal human trafficking culture from the shores of Africa.
One of the longest-running public recognitions of Juneteenth started in Milwaukee, WI in 1971 with a few hundred people that now attracts over 170,000 attendees each year. Juneteenth has been a platform for social causes for jobs creation, voter registration, and Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and systematic racism. Some cities use Juneteenth to start the summer festival season with music, food, contests, vendors, essay writing scholarships for children on “Why do I celebrate Juneteenth Day?”, and a parade emphasizing education and the achievements of African Americans. Rob Smith, a Marquette University professor, and historian writes, “Juneteenth is not a Hallmark-branded holiday in any way. It is an oral tradition like no other that is shared across generations, and it shows how, despite what some people say, Black people have not lost hope in the U.S. democracy. It signifies that we are full citizens of this country.”
Where you grew up also provided more knowledge of Juneteenth. States closer to Texas have recognized Juneteenth for decades. Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday in 1980. Wisconsin’s recognition of the day came in 2009. Some states also recognize “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, OK in June of 1921. I recently met a Black Art Gallery owner and curator in the SOHO district of NYC. Dr. Ricco Wright, originally from Tulsa, help me understand how his family members survived the actual 1921 race massacre and lived on to be civic & business leaders in Tulsa today. I enjoyed Dr. Wright’s historical writings and 21 art exhibits that highlight the centennial anniversary of the May 31st and June 1st events in Tulsa. He writes about the fact that Wall Street was Manhattan’s first official slave market for African slaves in 1711 and SOHO was the first black settlement in Manhattan in 1644, dating back to 1626.
On June 17th, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into Law as a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. of America. All elected representatives are free to make their vote to represent the voters of their district areas. From 1986 to 2021, I am very glad that I can be Free to work for Avaya for over 35-years. I am glad to be Free to travel the world as a U.S. citizen and business representative of Avaya. And I am blessed to be Free to learn, share, and teach my views of United States of America history that is Free for all to respect and acknowledge with historic holidays being recognized like Juneteenth in 2021.