How African Americans Celebrate Their Independence
Written by: Jordan Bowles
Edited by: My Identity Mag Team
In honor of the month of June, I will be shedding light on a very important cultural holiday that has been seen as somewhat obscure compared to more mainstream holidays celebrated in America. In this article, I will be talking about the cultural and historical significance of the holiday Juneteenth, and expounding on why it is so vitally important to African-Americans in this country.
If you were to pick up any American History book that detailed how the nation of America gained its independence from Great Britain, you would see the historically significant date of July 4th, 1776. This was the date, of course, that is referenced as the day America officially gained “her” independence, and some of the common ways that we tend to commemorate this holiday is with time off from work, barbecues, fireworks, and families typically celebrating with each other. However, if we dive deeper into the more covert parts of history, we would quickly realize that the “independence” that was obtained was only for a certain group of people, which helped to propel a very long history of establishing societal constructs that thrived off of ethnocentrism and eradicated the embrace of diversity, inclusion and the acceptance of minority groups.
During this significant time in history, it is important to realize that white Americans were the only ones who gained their “sense of freedom,” and black people were still being sold and controlled as slaves to their Caucasian masters. If we fast forward further into history, we must stop to acknowledge the date of January 1, 1863, as this was the date that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation officially into law, which came at the heels of the end of the Civil War and was supposed to free black slaves from their positions of servitude. Nevertheless, it is vital to note that on June 19th, 1865 Major General Gordon Granger and his Union Troops (of the North side of the Civil War) were capable of subduing General Robert E. Lee’s troops (who fought for the south side of the war). At this point in time, General Lee had already surrendered in his position in the war (he did so back in April of 1865), and this officially sealed the deal that allowed black slaves to be legally free. We must not ignore the fact that it took two and a half years for slaves to officially gain legal freedom from slavery with the legislation of the Emancipation Proclamation, and 89 years for them to gain freedom after their Caucasian counterparts.
June 19th, 1865, more commonly referred to as Juneteenth, is a extremely important holiday to the African-American culture. However, there is an alarming notion of the lack of reference to this holiday in the American public school educational system. I can speak from personal experience when I say that I did not learn about Juneteenth or its historical significance until nearly my last year of undergrad in college; and this was not in a class, but rather in the cultural organizations that I aligned myself with. The substantial absence of the historical significance of this holiday being mentioned in the public school system reflects where America needs to improve in terms of unity, diversity, and inclusion. As I have mentioned in articles in the past, African-Americans have made incredible contributions to the establishment of this country, and we must honor them by acknowledging where all of their incredible history began in the first place.
African-Americans in this country annually celebrate this holiday in a plethora of amazing ways that puts the nuances of this culture at the forefront. For example, every year students at Florida Atlantic University, who are members of ethnically and culturally based groups such as Progressive Black Men Inc., The National Council of Negro Women, SISTUHS Inc., The Black Student Union, and Historically Black Fraternities and Sororities, come together to honor the holiday by gathering at a park and creating a program complete with speeches, songs, poems and other forms of creative expression that pay homage to the holiday and the historical figures that have made an impact within this culture.
It is incredible to see so many African-American individuals celebrating and educating those around them about the cultural importance of this holiday and why it deserves to be commemorated annually. We must continue on this path by working hard to elect, train and support civic leaders, teachers, legislators, and politicians alike to incorporate the history of this holiday into mainstream society, as African-Americans deserve to be respected in such a honorable way. This year, do your research and find out how and where you can learn more about this holiday and even visit with those who will celebrate so that you can learn the aspects of this beautiful part of African-American culture.
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