DEAR READERS: Today is known as Juneteenth, though it is only in recent years that folks outside of the Black community have been aware of it. Given the renewed interest in civil rights that was sparked during the pandemic by the murder of George Floyd, it seems timely to share what this particular celebration represents.
You probably know of the Emancipation Proclamation that officially declared the institution of slavery to be abolished nationwide. This proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 during the Civil War and theoretically took effect in 1863. In reality, it took more than two years for the message to reach all of the slave states. Texas was the last to be informed and to accept that enslaved people must be freed. That message of freedom came on June 19, 1865 -- hence the moniker “Juneteenth.” This date has been celebrated ever since in Texas, and over time nationally, as the official end of the enslavement of Black people in this country.
There are many dates in history that Americans know and gladly celebrate for what they represent. In 2020, Juneteenth was acknowledged more broadly than ever before, and many businesses chose to give their employees the day off, though it has not yet been declared a national holiday.
Why does this matter? It is important to understand history. Though heinous and unforgivable, the institution of slavery was bedrock in the making of the United States. It was upon the backs of free labor that this country was built. Because of chattel slavery, many white landowners became wealthy as they turned a blind eye to the humanity of the people who built that wealth for them. Is this hard to hear, to learn, to accept? Of course it is. But the discomfort doesn’t make it any less real.
We recently recognized the 100th anniversary of the massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where more than 300 Black people were murdered. The thriving business district known as Black Wall Street was decimated by angry white people who did not want to concede that Black people had built wealth for themselves. The stories that unfolded during the telling of this 100-year-old horror illustrate how, up to this day, efforts have been made to tear down any success that Blacks have made in that town.
Sadly, our country continues to be haunted by the reality that although Black people deserve to pursue all of the riches that anyone else in this country can access, forces abound to deny this right. The history of how Blacks have been treated is excruciating to learn, yet it is essential to learn to get a clearer picture of where we are today.
This celebration of Juneteenth is one way that we can recognize the end of the most egregious action against humanity that this country has engaged in and point to the resiliency of Black people and the potential for true freedom and repairing of good will in the future.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)