On June 18, 2021, President Joe Biden proclaimed the first federal holiday since the proclamation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This holiday was and is the honoring of Juneteenth. For those unfamilar with the event, on June 19, 1865, 2000 Union soldiers rode into Galveston Bay, Texas and announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by executive decree. This was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued ending slavery in the Confederacy. (Complete and total abolishment of slavery wasn’t signed into law until December of 1865). This means while Americans were celebrating the Independence of the nation in 1776, well over 250,000 slaves were still in bondage and had no hope of freedom.
I shared on Instagram how pleased I was when my company issued a moving statement and a personal time off charge code despite the executive order only calling for federal workers to have that privilege. I also shared that I was surprised to feel a bit emotional about seeing the charge highlighted in yellow over the words “Juneteenth” holiday. That was definitely unexpected.
Not Rose-Colored Glasses
Now, I don’t want anyone to mistake my emotion for naiveté. There is so much more that needs to be done, taught, and seen than the declaration of a holiday for me to be convinced that the divisions that exist in the world have finally gone away. A post I saw on Facebook described it best….
Still, I am celebrating AND teaching
Today, my children and I discussed the significance of this day. We discussed th feelings the enslaved persons must have had upon learning they were free. We also discussed the pain of what the separated slaves must have been feeling. Do you stay on the plantation hoping that a loved one sold from that location returns? Do you hope to find them on your own? Do you risk the eventual “vagrancy” laws that made staying in an area without property and a job (which wasn’t going to be just given to recently freed slaves)? Do you travel up North towards the promise of a better future and treatment? What a horrible and bittersweet moment that must have been.
I say all of this to end with “Happy Juneteenth”. It is a wonderful thing for this day to be recognized and may it never be another excuse for sales and three-day weekends, but a day of jubilation for all who remember.