I’m happy Juneteenth is a Federal holiday–but don’t let it be whitewashed

By Akin Olla, The Guardian

We should celebrate the new holiday, while resisting attempts to co-opt its meaning and render it empty ceremony

Milwaukee, Wisconsin celebrated it 50th Juneteenth in 2021 with a long parade up Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, complete with Civil War re-enactors, beauty queens and kings, and Black public servants, among them County Executive David Crowley and Congresswoman Gwen Moore. This city was one of the first in the nation to celebrate the holiday. All photos by Lee Matz, The Milwaukee Independent

On 17 June, Joe Biden signed a bill turning Juneteenth, 19 June, into a federal holiday. Juneteenth, a celebration of the emancipation of enslaved Black people after the formal end of the US civil war, began in Texas in 1866 and has long been observed by many Black Americans.

The US government’s belated decision to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday is a testament to the impact of the current iteration of the perpetual movement for Black American liberation. Unfortunately, it may also be another step in the process to water down symbols of liberation: treating the brutalities of racism as a crime of the past instead of an ongoing project which both major political parties have helped helm. We should celebrate Juneteenth, while resisting attempts to co-opt its meaning and render it empty ceremony.

The remaining armies of the Confederacy and small rebel guerrilla groups continued to fight well after the loss of the Confederate capital and Gen Robert E Lee’s surrender in April. Slave-owning whites in fallen Confederate states fled west to Texas, bringing with them over 100,000 enslaved Black people in the process. It took the arrival of the Union army to begin the end of slavery in Texas. On 19 June 1865, Maj Gen Gordon Granger declared, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” While there have been many other dates for the holiday originally called Emancipation Day, 19 June became the dominant day of celebration….

The Milwaukee parade included the jubilance of the Nefertiti Dance Company and the dignity of Black urban cowboys.

We should be happy to popularize and celebrate Juneteenth. But we should celebrate it with the same fervor in which it was celebrated the summer of 2020, with protests, political education, and an understanding that the house of the slavemaster still stands, despite a fresh coat of paint. We must celebrate Juneteenth knowing the kind of force it took for enslaved Black people to attain emancipation – and the equivalent political force it may take to finally and absolutely uproot the American capitalist machine that seeks profit at the expense of Black freedom.

Reggie Jackson of Nurturing Diversity Partners and ABHM Head Griot since 2002 joined other community leaders in passing out goodies to kids along the route.
  • Akin Olla is a Nigerian American political strategist and organizer. He is the host of This Is the Revolution podcast

More Breaking News here.

More about Milwaukee and Juneteeth Day here.

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