Juneteenth: What is it and how can we commemorate it?

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Image: Ian Henshaw

The Juneteenth flag was first raised in 2000 in Boston, Massachusetts, by designer Ben Haith, according to the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation.

At this time, a multitude of national and international protests over police brutality are occurring. This, along with the continuation of systemic racism, is causing the world to seek concrete change. Many people of all backgrounds are looking into ways to best commemorate, celebrate and understand both the history and culture within Blackness. One way in which people are doing this is through Juneteenth.

June 19, 1863, also known as Juneteenth, marks the day on which the end of slavery within the United States was commemorated. Spanning all the way back to the late 19th century, Major General Gordon Granger and the Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas, with the information that the enslaved were now free. 

While President Abraham Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation effective as of January 1, 1863, the document had almost no impact and was hardly a real catalyst for the liberation of slaves. Although it was an executive order, no actual changes were made until General Robert E. Lee surrendered and General Granger took the lead. The 13th Amendment was passed on January 31, 1865, abolishing slavery within the United States, but nothing was fully celebrated until June of that same year.

The two-and-a-half-year delay in receiving this incredibly important news of the Emancipation Proclamation is pretty interesting to note. Many explanations behind this come about, ranging from the murder of a messenger to even the deliberate withholding of vital information.

In layman’s terms, the enslaved were “free” as the Emancipation Proclamation was finalized in 1863, but it wasn’t until two and a half years later that it was actually celebrated and implemented within society. Since then, Juneteenth has been acknowledged within our world, but how can we commemorate it? Here are three ways to commemorate Juneteenth this year.

Educate and inform yourself

Take the time to invest in your knowledge! There’s plenty of time to learn the integral parts of Black history, and having that knowledge is such a powerful thing. When reading about Black history, make sure to also reach into the history that’s being made currently. Every day Black people are making history, so it’s important to know that. Did you know that Black inventor Garrett Morgan was the inventor of the three-light traffic light?

Invest in Black businesses

So many Black people have heavy influences in their lives. They take their talents and skills and use those in accordance with their influences to create meaningful work. There are a multitude of business owners willing to sell you their products or services that you can buy from. Sometimes their prices are even better than mainstream services! 

If you want to check out some Black-owned Mercer businesses, click here.

Show pride in your Blackness

If you are Black, it is so important to express that unconditional and unquestionable pride in your blackness. Being Black is more than just the social construct and the color; it’s a way of life. It’s our kinky and loud hair. Our inviolable vernacular and music style. Our fashion sense and unapologetic attitude when we’re in our zone. Our Blackness is us. 

Use this Juneteenth as a day to heal. Recall events and experiences that shaped us into who we are, and never forget that. 

To read more about the history of Juneteenth, click here.