In the run-up to the Fourth of July, a holiday known as Juneteenth marks another important struggle for independence that is still in progress. Juneteenth Independence Day is an abbreviation for July 19, the date in 1865 when the abolition of slavery was finally announced in Texas (two years after the actual signing of the Emancipation Proclamation) and is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Also known as Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day, the unofficial holiday commemorates the liberation of African-American slaves throughout the Confederate South.
People gathered to celebrate Juneteenth in Oakland, South Berkeley, San Jose, and and other parts of the Bay Area this past weekend. There were performances, open park festivals, speakers, health and wellness pavilions, concerts, kids’ activities, cookouts and more.The largest event, a family day parade and festival, took place in Richmond.
Across the country, Juneteenth events often include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation and of works by African/American writers, singing freedom songs like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and the Black American National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Today Juneteenth commemorates African American resistance to oppression and the ongoing fight for justice. The holiday also emphasizes education and achievement in the community. However, the continuous onslaught on the African American community like the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in recent years perpetrated by a white supremacist on the historical Ebenezer Church in Charleston, SC killing nine African American parishioners after a prayer session serve as one of many horrific reminders that the struggle continues.
While Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in most states, in California, it is still not a federal holiday. Before celebrating national independence on July 4, take some time to reflect on your own historical legacy, whatever that may be, and the lessons history teaches on what freedom really means and how can it be won.