Since 1865 when Galveston, TX made this day, June 19th an official holiday, the African American community holds this day in reverence as a sign of hope and promise.
It was the day the last slaves in Texas were told they were free. The day about six months after the Emancipation Proclamation, that freedom became a reality for all African Americans in the United States of America.
I never learned about this day in school in the 1970's. It happened after school let out and frankly, it wasn't part of the curriculum. I learned about this day as my father and his father and so forth, and most African Americans learned about this day, the same way most people learned about it (and celebrated it quietly for generations underground), from my father through a story at a seemingly spontaneous picnic as a child. It's become more prevalent in the United States with more and more cities recognizing the day as significant in our history but...
I think in many ways the celebration of Juneteenth Day is a mystery to the majority of the population of the United States.
The first obvious question I hear is why not just celebrate the day of the Emancipation Proclamation when people were legally freed?
The answer is simple really: Because legal freedom does not always equate to actual freedom. If it did the civil rights movement would not have been necessary.
In so many ways this day is symbolic of a nation that was willing to say one thing and do another. While passing the 14th and 15th amendments that gave African Americans full citizenship (well at least men), they quickly passed a slew of local laws that essentially took that citizenship away in the reality of everyday life.
It took 100 years of Jim Crow, the Tuskeegee Airmen, Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, Hank Aaron, Thurgood Marshall, separate but equal, lynchings, Brown v BOE, and more bloodshed than in the Civil War to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, neither would have been necessary had the 14th and 15th amendments been adhered to in the first place. They were the law of the land, but the enforcement of those laws was all but ignored for a century.
African Americans understand that the laws in this country are always quite far ahead of the ways they are enforced and that they apply differently to different people.
(if you read my blog regularly, you have an idea of what I'm referring to here...)
So in our community, we continue to celebrate not the day the laws changed, but the day six months later when the law was finally enforced throughout the Union and freedom was actually achieved by the very last slaves still held captive by their former owners.
I'm still waiting though for full freedom.
Felon disfranchisement, educational disparities, policing disparities, sentencing disparities, economic disparities, literacy, housing inequality, banking inequality, gender disparities, sexual orientation inequities, health care disparities, racially charged immigration "debates", and full freedom still are plaguing minority communities all over this country, despite the feel-goodness of having elected an African American president that we all are experiencing today...
I'm patiently waiting, well, I'm not so patient on these issues actually, but waiting to fully celebrate the actions of a more reasonable President (who happens to have skin just slightly lighter than Boehner's), a more reasonable Congress and someday maybe a more reasonable SCOTUS...
I have hope and promise, I'm ready now for action!
So in the true spirit of Juneteenth Day, let's celebrate the successes and remember to keep an eye on the ball for the hope and promises of a day in the future, not yet established, when every man, woman and child born into this country is truly given a chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Not just in law, but also in practice.