Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the emancipation of African slaves in the United States. Today’s renewed awareness of the celebration has expanded beyond African Americans into the mainstream spotlight following recent protests of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer. Prior to this, Juneteenth had lost its importance within the black community as a result of a variety of factors, including the relinquishing of familial and community involvement in the education of black youth.
For good reason, Juneteenth was a heralded observance, accompanied with barbecues, strawberry pop, and bedecked free people of color. This was no ordinary celebration. For economic and political reasons, slaves in Galveston, Texas were late to learn of the Emancipation Proclamation that happened two years earlier. On June 19, 1865 news of a fallen confederacy, and the end of slavery, reached them. This caused both confusion and elation and the date became a monument of their new identity as free people. For decades, the celebration served as a reassurance of freedom, as a way to reunite families and as a way to worship among close-knit communities of color.
Over time families no longer were the mainstay of passing down traditions as textbook and classroom education began to erase the stories of their ancestors. Other cultural shifts, including the economic downturn of The Depression and the inability to get time off for celebrations, caused the observance of Juneteenth declines. The community, its values, and its power declined.
As we witness what appears to be a mass awakening, communities that never knew about or celebrated Juneteenth are now doing so. Corporations have jumped on the bandwagon and have given employees time off to commemorate the date as an official paid holiday. Others have donated funds to organizations working to further the rights of black people or have shown solidarity in other ways. While interesting to experience, at the forefront of this discussion is whether it’s genuine or trending and whether the validity of things that matter to African Americans will ever become a matter of long-standing importance both inside and outside of our communities.
We have yet to see what will become of Juneteenth. As families, community members, and educators, the only real impact we can have here is making sure we amplify our impact by continuing the narratives around black history and doing so not only when it’s trending or for social media likes, but for the awareness of our own history, culture, and continuity. As Juneteenth’s importance broke down because of secularizing education, we have an opportunity to re-establish the strong ties that stabilized and sustained our communities and helped them prosper.
The Village Method continues to advocate for culturally relevant education where our young people–our greatest investment–can experience the most significant growth. By bringing awareness to Juneteenth and other things that matter to our community, we hope to empower you to do the same.
For more information about The Village Method, our philosophy, and our enrichment and educational programs, please visit us here.