June 19 commemorates the date that Major General Gordon Granger read General Order 3 to the people of Galveston, Texas. It was at that time, two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed The Emancipation Proclamation, that every enslaved person in the United States was free and knew it. A celebration occurred and celebrations still occur to this day. It’s important to dress up and celebrate with barbeque and strawberry soda, pies, and tea cakes. It’s also important to share our ancestry as Black people in the United States.
While Juneteenth became an official holiday in Texas in 1980 and a federal holiday in 2021 we know that Black Americans must still fight for our place at the table. We know that Black Americans are still not free to bird-watch, go to the grocery shop, jog, and to breathe. As a nation, we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. It is important to remember this as we celebrate Juneteenth. If you are interested in learning more about the history of our struggles in the United States I highly recommend taking the free course, Becoming Beloved Community: Understanding Systemic Racism, created by ChurchNext.
Writing about race is hard, but I feel that Juneteenth is not only a time of celebration but of reflection.
Writing about race is hard, but I feel that Juneteenth is not only a time of celebration but of reflection. I have always had what I like to call ‘Subtle Black Pride’ … you know you aren’t going to see me at a rally of sorts, but I, in my own way, will let you know I love my people. By my people, however, I mean both backgrounds of my biracial heritage. Although I have this deep love for my heritage I didn’t always feel this power on the inside.
I didn’t learn about Juneteenth until the end of my freshman year of college. Even then, I thought of it as more of a time of celebration and cookouts. I didn’t think about my own personal experiences with ‘the race place’ and what that meant in terms of how I celebrate Juneteenth. It took me a long time to understand all that it means to be a rural Black person in the state of Missouri.
I remember being 12 years old and learning about my own heritage as the daughter of a white woman from a large family who lived mostly in the Midwest and Mid-South and as the daughter of a black man I’ve only met twice. I wanted to know what it meant to be part of the Black culture. I knew that I couldn’t meet my father’s family (only child; both of his parents had passed away), but I wanted to learn about who he was in the hopes that I could find out who I was. When I celebrate Juneteenth I think about this man who I do not know who had a role in creating the me that I am for my family, friends, colleagues, and students.
I am black, I am white, I am a woman, a mother, a daughter, a Christian, I am a United States citizen and I am anything else that shows my inner and outer beauty.”
I spent my middle school and high school years reading books about my heritage and culture. One book I remember, in particular, is The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Through the reading of this book I learned about what it means to be Black in the United States and Malcolm’s stories became the gateway to even more stories about being female, being Black, being American. Through the stories of others, I learned to tell my own.
I have learned that, even if people try to classify me and pigeonhole me into one category, I am more than that. I am black, I am white, I am a woman, a mother, a daughter, a Christian, I am a United States citizen and I am anything else that shows my inner and outer beauty. I have learned to rise up.
I’ve learned that there are questions that will never be answered, there are questions that shouldn’t be answered and there are questions that can’t be answered as they only lead to more questions. I’ve learned to be comfortable where I am and to love all aspects of my culture and heritage. I’ve learned that searching for culture and identity is part of my heritage and is part of the legacy of being a descendant of enslaved peoples. Juneteenth is a celebration of all that I hold, all that I will become and all that I am becoming. Juneteenth is stories waiting to be told.
Ways to celebrate Juneteenth
- Use this time to shop Black. Locally, if you can.
- Share your story, your history with others and listen and learn as others share theirs.
- Find out the history of Black people in your state, town and/or neighborhood.
- Eat good food from your family and your culture.
- Decorate your home or office black, red and green in celebration.
- Read this liturgy and history.
I’ll leave you with this.
On this powerful day of remembrance and celebration, I like to find ways to look inward to think about my place in the world and in the United States as I celebrate outwardly with others.