It’s no surprise that Juneteenth is treated like the red-headed stepchild to the “original” Independence Day. It’s certainly no coincidence that this country won’t even recognize this day as a national holiday, since it would have to openly acknowledge its key role in the centuries of genocide and gruesome treatment of African Americans in the United States.
However, to black people across this country—Juneteenth is and will always be the blackest holiday ever and here’s why.
As time has passed, the powers to be in this country have done what they could to make us forget what occurred to our ancestors—but we can’t, and we won’t. For four centuries, the United States of America was a major participant in the trafficking, rape, enslavement, and murder of African slaves throughout the northern and southern regions.
Though history will have you believe that slavery was “better” up north versus down south—it was still slavery and slaves were still mistreated and killed.
The trafficking of African slaves began with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and they were distributed throughout the Caribbean islands and the United States. Though no official number has been recorded, historians estimate a total of 20 million African slaves were transported (or died during transport) during this period. In 1808, the Transatlantic slave trade was abolished, which then led to the Domestic Slave Trade.
For another fifty-seven years, black people were trafficked north and south for the booming cotton, tobacco, sugar, and rice demands. During this time, slaves were transported along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers as well as trains that stretched across the south.
Harsh labor conditions was only once facet slave faced. Thousands of men, women and children were forced to endure heinous acts such as breeding, buck-breaking (sex farms), rape, sodomy and sexual abuse, castration, physical abuse, torture and the worst of all—death.
All these ghastly acts lead to uprisings and eventually the American Civil War in 1861. In September 1862, two years into the Civil War—President Lincoln issued the first Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery. Since the slavery was a vital economic force within this country, Confederate states did not immediately cease slavery.
On January 1, 1863, Lincoln signed the final Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery. Though history loves to glorify Lincoln’s actions (because there always needs to be a great white hero narrative), the slaves actually fought to free themselves. From 1861 – 1865 roughly 200,000 slaves fought for their freedom and the freedom of their families.
Sadly, slavery continued for two and half more years. On June 19, 1865, General Granger marched into Texas to announce the Civil War was over and slavery had officially ended—making Texas the last state to abolish slavery—freeing over 250,000 slaves.
It may seem this was the beginning to a new life, but it was far from it. The freedom of slaves was rejected by white people as institutionalized racism and discrimination continued. This sparked a violent backlash from the entitled and overprivileged mayo sapiens that lead to the reconstruction era, Jim Crow, segregation & the Civil Rights movement, and the continuous racism we still experience today.
In April 1864, Congress passed the 13th Amendment and later ratified it on December 6, 1865. What would seem to be a good gesture done by the former slave owners and deemed the official ending of slavery was nothing more than a legal loophole that would lead to the modern day slavery we have come to know as mass incarceration.
Still not recognized as a national holiday, Congress did black folks a favor (since we can’t get reparations) in 1997 and recognized Juneteenth as Juneteenth Independence Day.
This day is not just about freedom. It’s about the fight, determination, sacrifices our ancestors endured during this time. It’s about the lives lost on the cotton fields, in the trees, and throughout the many rebellions as they clawed their way to a better life.
This day is about the celebration of people who didn’t give up and who did whatever they could to obtain the human and civil rights God gave them.
Maybe one of these days, we’ll actually know how it feels like to live in that truth. Happy Juneteenth—the blackest holiday we will ever celebrate.