June 19, 2021, is the observation of Juneteenth. For some, this may be a new term, while others have recognized this day for decades. Despite when you learned about Juneteenth, the importance of the day remains relevant to the landscape of American history.
In June 1865, enslaved people in Texas first learned that they were free two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the Civil War ended. This is typically viewed as the time when all enslaved people were aware of their freedom. For this reason, the day can be experienced in a variety of ways, either through jubilation, and/or as a time of deep reflection.
Black Americans, who have traditionally celebrated this date, often view it as a time of pride and connection to their ancestors, as well as a time of celebration of culture through food, music, community gathering, and storytelling. “Early Juneteenth observances included a search for lost family members and an opportunity to uplift each other as they moved through hostile environments” (Dillard, 2019). Efforts to preserve these traditions continue through the celebratory events to commemorate Juneteenth. “People retell histories, have family reunions, eat foods reminiscent of early Juneteenth celebrations such as barbeque, attend religious services or choir performances, and have elaborate displays such as fancy dress and parades” (Dillard, 2019).
While these celebrations are common on Juneteenth, it is also a time to take pause and evaluate America’s complicated history. Juneteenth has not typically been a holiday recognized nationally, and is often not reflected in current instruction nationwide. All Americans can have the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Juneteenth as a way to learn from history in an effort not to repeat it. Arguably, Juneteenth has shaped the experiences of many Black Americans post-enslavement, from Reconstruction, to the World Wars, to the Civil Rights Movement, to 2021, and beyond.
“Each of us have the opportunity to learn about Juneteenth as a mirror, or a window experience” (Bishop, 1990). For Black Americans, Juneteenth celebrations and learning may serve as a mirror, where there is the ability to see oneself and connect, while others will have a window experience through learning and seeing the past and current experiences of others. We all need these experiences to truly have perspective and a sense of belonging as our common purpose.