by Gray Graham
June 19, 1865 was the end of slavery in the United States of America. It occurred two years after the emancipation because the people of Texas decided that they were not going to abide by the laws of the land and thus subjected African slaves to two additional years of the horrors of slavery. If it is possible to do something worse than enslave another human being this might be an example of such an evil.
Growing up in the South we celebrated Juneteenth every single year. Us Black folks didn’t care anything about the Fourth of July as it was known then because we didn’t get our freedom on July 4, 1776. We got our freedom on June 19, 1865 because as long as one Black person was still enslaved we were all enslaved.
Of course Black people did not achieve real freedom on June 19, 1865 either. We have endured segregation and discrimination on levels that resemble slavery in many respects. We are treated as third rate citizens in a country built by us on land stolen from others. It is a reality Black Americans carry every single day.
With Juneteenth officially becoming a federal holiday this week a lot of people learned the work of Opal Lee who as a child on June 19, 1939, watched her home in Fort Worth burn down as a white mob threatened to lynch her father. It was this experience that drove her to have Juneteenth established as a national holiday even though for many Black people it was the cornerstone of their culture.
The struggle of Black freedom has been a long one and we are still not close to the end. Across the country groups of people are still trying to deny equal rights to Black Americans who are the descendants of those African slaves. State legislatures across the United States are constantly passing laws that make it harder to vote, easier to imprison, and even easier to kill Black Americans. The real irony is that some of the very same people that voted to make Juneteenth a national holiday are also the ones that are preventing schools from teaching our children about the events that led to us celebrating Juneteenth.
In spite of all of the hardships and struggles placed on us as a people, Black Americans have always risen from the ashes quite literally. We have never needed approval or acceptance in order to celebrate the joys of life. The horrors of slavery. The pain of segregation. The crippling economic discrimination. Everything that could be done wrong to us has been done and we have triumphed and conquered it all.
It is this unbreakable spirit of Black Americans that has made the world try to copy our soul, our style, and our grace. The world sings like us, dances like us, cooks like us, run like us, jump like us, talks like us, and prays like us.
Juneteenth is a celebration of Black America. The children of those African slaves that America tried to break and keep trying to break. We have survived. We keep standing on the shoulders of our elders taking one step further than those before us. It is a slow process because we are still opposed by the children of the slave owners who still despise and hate our very being, but they can’t stop us; they can only slow us down.
So even though it might take us decades to achieve specific goals, you better believe that we or our children are going to get every single one of those goals accomplished. One day all Black Americans will be free and will help America realize the ideas it was based on even though when it was founded it was just a lie.
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