If Juneteenth is about freedom from slavery, why don’t we celebrate it on the anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation or the surrender of the Confederate Army?
Because not all U.S. Americans were free yet.
June 19, 1865, marks the day that the U.S. Army read a federal proclamation in Galveston, declaring freedom for slaves still held in Texas. A year later, Juneteenth celebrations started—mostly as church gatherings, picnics, and similar events.
One of the questions I get [a lot] when I talk about Juneteenth is, “Why can’t everyone just celebrate on the 4th of July?” And the answer is, of course, everyone can, but it means more to some groups of people than others. I think the closest analogy I can come up with are the people who are determined to wait until after Thanksgiving to put up a Christmas tree or listen to Christmas music. Do they hate Christmas? Not usually. But their argument is that Thanksgiving is its own thing, and it’s important to take time to remember to be thankful before we rush headlong into the gift-giving-gift-getting holiday season. (I agree with them, but I’m also going to start my Christmas music at the beginning of October. Sorry. It makes me happy.)
Many countries celebrate multiple days throughout the year that are important to their struggle for independence as a nation and freedom as individuals. Years ago, I visited Ecuador and learned that they celebrate at least three “independence day”-type holidays; two of them involve declaring independence from Spain (the first time the Ecuadorian leadership tried, the Spanish executed them all… it was a while before independence could stick).
Not all Americans were freed on Juneteenth… but not all Americans were freed on the Fourth of July either. Why wouldn’t we celebrate both? Let’s take this week to commemorate a big, important thing our country did right: setting people free. Take this new national holiday and gather your people, chill your drinks, cook your favorite summer foods, and have a party. Be grateful that we’re citizens of a country that is still trying to live up to “We believe… that all men are created equal.” Look around you at all the people you love, and remember that you’re free.*
We can all celebrate our independence from England on the Fourth of July. But the freedom Juneteenth represents is important to remember, as well.
For Carpe Librum, this time between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July is going to be a thing of its own; we’re calling it our Freedom Season. Celebrate with us!