Juneteenth: What It Is, How People Celebrate, and Those Who Oppose It

Juneteenth Via wynpnt

Today is a big day for Juneteenth. As President Joseph R. Biden signed a bill into law creating a federal holiday to celebrate it, it’s important to reflect on what Juneteenth is, how people feel about the holiday, and why some didn’t support the bill.

According to Juneteenth.com, “Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.” Originating in Galveston, Texas, June 19th was celebrated as the day the last African Americans were actually emancipated from slavery in the US. While the civil war was already over on April 9th, slavery wasn’t officially declared over in Texas until June 19, 1865.

One year later freed Black slaves in Texas celebrated the first of many celebrations of “Jubilee Day.” It was also a time of political rallies that encouraged and instructed former slaves on voting. This is the day that became known as Juneteenth celebrated nationwide.

While every member of the United States Senate voted to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, 14 House members voted against making it. Those members that voted against it include:

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky.

Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont.

Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C.

Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas

Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas

Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wis.

All are Republicans, while most are from southern states. According to USA Today, their explanations varied.

Representative Matt Rosendale sees the holiday as a leftist plot: “Let’s call an ace an ace. This is an effort by the Left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make Critical Race Theory the reigning ideology of our country. Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote no.”

In another statement, Representative Ronny Jackson said, “We have enough federal holidays right now. I just don’t see the reason in doing it.” Adding, “I don’t think it rises to the level I’m going to support it.”

A spokesperson for Representative Mo Brooks seems to cast his lack of support on a technicality, telling USA Today: “Congressman Brooks believes America should celebrate slaves gaining their freedom with a federal holiday but he doesn’t think June 19th is the appropriate day for the holiday. June 19th is significant to Texas but the day America celebrates slaves gaining their freedom should be on a day of national significance. The day the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, or the days the 13th, 14th or 15th amendments were passed, or the end of the Civil War would be more appropriate. He would also prefer that another federal holiday be eliminated to offset the $1 billion price tag associated with giving federal workers the day off.”

While Juneteenth is a day of celebration, those who expect Black people to celebrate this day without nuance would be mistaken.

Alexander Taylor, Jr., a former resident of Louisiana currently residing in Oklahoma, has mixed views on Juneteenth. Taylor refers to himself as “blackish,” having not only African American but Native American ancestry. Taylor says when it comes to being Black, “That’s how the world sees me.” He says of Juneteenth that: “It’s good for us as a country, I guess. It’s a shame it took all this. But ‘yay.’ Ironically enough, I’m actually upset that there doesn’t seem to be a federal holiday for Native Americans. It seems to always go between the white people and the black people. You’re forgetting the indigenous people.”

He adds, “But yeah, as a country—400 years—you gave us the shortest month, I guess it’s great that we now have a federal holiday, too. But let’s be honest about it. These are breadcrumbs. I would give up this whole holiday if I didn’t have to work twice as hard in positions other people take for granted, or didn’t have to worry about walking down my neighborhood at night.

“This still avoids the question of a conversation we need. We still haven’t talked about how this country was built on blood and suffering. In Oklahoma, the governor signed a bill trying to remove that from history books. It was too divisive, apparently, to talk about what they call Critical Race Theory—which is also incorrect. Having a holiday is great and all, but as a country, we seem not okay dealing with the problem that led us here, but, yay, go America.”

Paris Tate, a Black woman and native to Southeastern, Louisiana concurs with Taylor. She says, “I was thinking about this today and it’s good to see Juneteenth is getting more recognition. A lot more people are aware of it than they were just a few years ago. With that being said, this says a lot about what we’re not being taught in school. I had never heard of Juneteenth until after high school. This is something that definitely needs to change in school, especially considering how some states are banning Critical Race Theory in schools, even though it’s a very big part of American history.”

Alex Jennings is a Black man, a New Orleans resident, and the author of the upcoming novel, “The Ballad of Perilous Graves” published by Orbit/Red Hook in the spring of 2022. He says of Juneteenth that, “For me, it’s a time of joy, and a chance to relax and have fun with family and friends–but its somber nature is never far from my mind. The idea that the black folks in Galveston didn’t learn about Emancipation until long after it had taken effect is a sober reminder of how easily the USA can leave us behind.”

Asked about how the USA is still leaving Black people behind, he says, “Economically, for one. The financial devastation in the wake of Covid-19 continues to be a heavy burden visited on the underclass – especially black and brown people. Families and individuals are still hurting, but the government believes that offering relief amounts to ‘paying people not to work.’ It’s one of the reasons we’re in the fix we’re in now. So, making Juneteenth a federal holiday doesn’t do nearly as much as police or social reform would.”

So the consensus, among Black people spoken to by Big Easy Magazine, seems to be that Juneteenth is nice and all, but America still has a very long way to go.

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