The warmer weather in much of the United States represents joy and liberty from the cold winter months ¬ not to mention liberty from layers. During this season of freedom, Americans celebrate Independence Day, honoring America’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence. As an important part of this country’s history, Americans typically commemorate the events of July 4, 1776, by parading through the streets with floats, flags and, of course, fireworks.
But what about African-American history? Certainly, 1776 does not represent a time of freedom and power for African-Americans and their ancestors. Should African-Americans celebrate Independence Day when, at that time, their ancestors did not experience sovereignty like white Americans did (and still do)?
Enter Juneteenth: a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 – which, in fact, marked the end of slavery for the entire country. While slavery was abolished in 1863 via President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the news did not reach slaves in Texas until two years later, at the end of the Civil War.
Across the nation, Juneteenth is celebrated by all colors and creeds quite similarly to Independence Day: with parades, cookouts and community gatherings. While white American freedom is noted July 4, the freedom of all Americans is observed on Juneteenth.
“Americans still recognize this occasion, Juneteenth, as a symbolic milestone on our journey toward a more perfect union. At churches and in parks, lined up for parades and gathered around the barbecue pit, communities come together and celebrate the enduring promise of our country: that all of us are created equal,” President Barack Obama said in a news release in 2015.
Juneteenth is celebrated in various states around the country and is recognized as a state holiday in 45 states. In Michigan, Juneteenth is celebrated statewide with significant gatherings in Detroit, Saginaw, Lansing and more. Since former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a bill declaring Juneteenth a state holiday in 2005, Lansing has explicitly ensured that the holiday is aptly recognized each June. To commemorate the holiday this year in Lansing, there will be celebrations June 7 and June 14-16, with a parade to close the celebrations June 16.
As we consider these holidays and their meanings, it is important to respect and recognize America’s foundation and history; it is also just as important to recognize that this foundation was established during a time when African-Americans were cruelly mistreated through slavery and oppression. Whether you’ve been celebrating Juneteenth your entire life or are new to the holiday, consider using this day to reflect on American history and the challenges it has presented. Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of African-American slaves, but it recognizes so much more: the invaluable courage and contributions that African-Americans have made to our society over the last few centuries. When you celebrate Juneteenth, you not only honor freedom, you honor equality.
To learn more about the celebration in Lansing, visit lansingjuneteenthcelebration.org.