Finding Juneteenth By Erinda Ratchford, 14

Above: The Denver Dancing Diamonds performing during a Juneteenth parade.

Newark, New Jersey—Picture this: the echoes of fireworks in the sky, air smelling like sweet barbecue sauce and music turned up to the max. Fourth of July? Let me stop right here. No.

Today we’re discussing a celebration—not as popularized but even more important— known as Juneteenth. Juneteenth is an annual holiday that falls on June 19. It commemorates when slaves in Texas were finally pronounced free in 1865. Texas was the last U.S. state to have slaves. According to our history textbooks, “The Emancipation Proclamation,” signed by Abraham Lincoln, was the official document that freed all slaves. However, news didn’t break about the proclamation until two years later when a union general announced it to the public from a handwritten military decree. Even after the war, some slave owners never told their slaves about their freedom until months after when they were forced to tell them and set them free.

Texans, other states, and countries have been celebrating Juneteenth for decades, but sadly our school curriculums don’t include these kinds of facts, so lots of people don’t know about it to this day. Others like Malcolm Knowles, an instructor at Writopia, learned about the holiday when he was a child. “I first learned about Juneteenth from my parents. I must have been like six, maybe seven-years-old when they were telling me about Juneteenth. I grew up in Texas and really that’s where Juneteenth was predominately celebrated.” Where you grew up clearly affects your knowledge on certain subjects because I know my peers and myself did not know what Juneteenth was until recently.

As a Black middle schooler in the U.S., I was particularly upset when I realized the amount of Black history missing from my education—including Juneteenth, a day I should have celebrated throughout my life. When interviewing my Mom she said, “It should be part of the curriculum in elementary, middle, and high school – along with the Tulsa Oklahoma Race riots, the Rosewood burning, red lining, mass incarceration, reparations, legislation that affected Blacks (civil rights act, voting rights, federal housing act), cash bail and payday lending.” Due to the fact that around 49 percent of the world’s population is on social media, information spreads faster than a few centuries ago when town criers were the newspaper. For example, the killing of George Floyd became a worldwide known tragedy in a matter of days.

On a happier note, New Yorkers celebrated by marching peacefully in memory of that glorious day and others participated in social distanced festivals, parades, performances and etc. The celebration is also now in the process of becoming a national holiday, but it has recently become a paid holiday for state employees in New York. The three states yet to legally recognize Juneteenth as a holiday are North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii.

Now you may be thinking, “Why don’t we celebrate both the Fourth of July and Juneteenth?” Lots of people actually stopped celebrating the Fourth of July.  Most African Americans don’t because slaves were not free on that day, so they find it insignificant to them. While the Fourth of July is a fun holiday celebrating independence, Juneteenth is a fun celebration of widespread equality and overall it is for a better cause. I have never connected to the Fourth of July on a personal level, so I am happy to have discovered Juneteenth, a holiday that is more than just shooting fireworks and eating funnel cake.

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