What Juneteenth Means to Me?

Imagine not knowing that you’ve been freed from slavery because nobody told you. That’s how the Juneteenth holiday got started.

Juneteenth is celebrated in the African American community on June 19 every year. It began as a commemoration of the emancipation of slaves in Texas. It was first recognized in Galveston, Texas, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Even after Texan slaveholders knew of the proclamation, they continued to use brutality to keep enslaved people submissive.

For me growing up, the only significance of Juneteenth was food, rides at the amusement park and music. Oddly enough, my mother, who attended an all-Black school in the 1930s and ‘40s, never explained it to me, which is surprising because she won first prize in a contest about Negro History. But she was of a generation that didn’t discuss these kinds of things with their children. It was not until far later in life that I truly understood what it was about.

Last year, my daughter and I attended the Juneteenth celebration in Oakland. The celebration was one of the most powerful things that I have ever experienced in my life. For me, there was even more of a sense of urgency than usual to attend. It was less than a month after the killing of George Floyd. 

I was never taught about this during my time in school. Honestly, it wasn’t until last year that I learned about Galveston. This is why I not only educate my daughter, but myself as well. It is up to all of us to learn about this significant event in American history and to teach others as well.

Originally published in Street Sheet’s June 1, 2021 issue.