I didn’t learn about Juneteenth in school in rural, northern Michigan. Sure, we learned about the enslavement of Africans and the Emancipation Proclamation, but we didn’t learn about Black liberation, or the continued challenges to that liberation.
Juneteenth or June 19th was the day in 1865 when federal troops brought the message to Galveston, TX that enslaved people were free. This was two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Thus, Juneteenth has been a day of celebration and community for Black and African American people, including in Texas, where it has been a state holiday since 1979. It is considered by some to be the Black Independence Day or Freedom Day.
Certainly, Juneteenth is a day of celebration, but it’s important to note that Juneteenth marks the day in history where the liberation journey of Black people began, not where it concluded. The declaration in the form of General Orders 3 read in Texas on Juneteenth in 1865, went as follows:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Although we celebrate the first portion of that statement on Juneteenth, we should also note the latter part, which immediately contests the freedom won. The recommendation that African Americans stay working for their former slaveholders and the warning to not be idle immediately sets up a system of sharecropping and use of law enforcement to return African Americans to forced labor with a new name. Relatedly, enslavement and forced labor as a punishment for prisoners in Colorado was only recently abolished in 2018.
Liberation, freedom, and civil rights are a continued fight led by Black people and other people of color. So, this Juneteenth, let’s educate ourselves, celebrate, and join the struggle, remembering Martin Luther King’s words, “No one is free until we all are free.” Let’s bind our futures together and honor Juneteenth.
Things to do
Locally, Fort Collins Juneteenth has many celebratory events planned the weekend of June 17-19.