Juneteenth March for Justice” by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Today is the day after Juneteenth, the first time in history the federal government has recognized the day commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans from chattel slavery. The last time the federal government introduced a new federal holiday was Martin Luther King Day in 1983. While first established in Texas as a state holiday, the path to this holiday being commemorated at the national level also shares its roots with Louisiana at a historic 1994 meeting. According to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, “the era of the “Modern Juneteenth Movement” began when a group of Juneteenth leaders from across the country gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana, at Christian Unity Baptist Church, Rev. Dwight Webster, Pastor, to work for greater national recognition of Juneteenth. The historic meeting was convened by Rev. John Mosley, Director of the New Orleans Juneteenth Freedom Celebration.” As a result of this meeting, multiple organizations were formed with a greater focus on establishing and continuing the celebration nationwide. 

Opal Lee, the 94 year old “grandmother of Juneteenth,” hosts an annual 2.5 mile walk in her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas as a nod to the 2.5 years it took for Galvestorn enslaved African-Americans to hear of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. It was her petition, which garnered 1.5 million signatures, and the efforts of Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey, that paved the way for another shot at federal recognition of the celebrated holiday after it failed in 2020 – despite broad bipartisan support. With the measure passing this year, and signed into law by President Biden, the holiday is still seen as a shallow victory by activists, organizers, and the descendants of those enslaved Africans. 

African Americans are still negatively affected by the systemic barriers of disproportionate incarceration rates, a rising wealth gap, and as the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated, continued health disparities. Currently, conservative politicos and pundits are attacking critical race theory with little to no understanding of what it means. More recently, Representative Ray Garofalo introduced a bill which could have made it illegal for educators to teach about racism and sexism. As a result, the juxtaposition of Juneteenth, and the presence of legislators who would actively seek to make it illegal to teach the ramifications of the origin of the holiday, is proof that continued work is necessary. Specifically, those in the Black community have long sought not only symbolic reparations in the form of a federally recognized holiday, but material reparations in the form of payouts to individuals and/or families. Reparations are not just about correcting this country’s historic past wrongs. Reparations are an acknowledgement that horrific things happened, which disadvantaged entire communities and continue to do so today. Substantive policy change, which would address the qualified immunity of officers who continue to murder American citizens with impunity, the past state sanctioned redlining which has continued the history of theft of Black-owned property, and the continued disenfranchisment of Black and brown voters is what has been asked for but it is not what has been received. 

Juneteenth’s commemoration was a long time coming and still we celebrate its federal designation as a holiday. The fight for freedom is not over until we have achieved the level playing field that we were only deemed good enough to toil but to never profit from.That will be the day we can finally lift our voices and sing and establish that victory is won. 

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *