Juneteenth, celebrated every June 19th for over 150 years, is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The day marks the official end of slavery in the US. Even though President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, enslaved people in Texas were only made aware of their freedom two years later, on June 19th, 1865. Juneteenth has been commemorated by African American families ever since, and President Joe Biden signed a bill making it the newest federal holiday in 2021.
This year, we asked graduate research fellows from the Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Science Education project to share what Juneteenth means to them and how they celebrate the day.
Juanita: It means true independence from enslavement.
Veronica: Juneteenth is not merely symbolic: it actually marks the ending of physical slavery in this country. Though slavery had ended legally, some slaves had not yet received word that they had been “freed.” Juneteenth marks the day those slaves were finally informed that they were in fact free.
Juanita: I do have memories of celebrating Juneteenth and discussing the importance of this day because of history. My family would read articles and discuss the impact they had on our culture.
Veronica: Where I am from in Denver, each year there is an annual Juneteenth celebration. As a child I went to the parade each year, and enjoyed the two day festival that followed. Though I understood the significance of Juneteenth as a child, I did not understand the gravity…I wasn’t aware of how significant our celebration was. The parade involved step teams, speakers, activists, dancers, community organizations, etc. One year, I met Al Sharpton there [when he] marched in the parade. I still have that picture. The two-day festival covered the historic Five Points community (where Duke Ellington and others played when they came to Denver). There were more African American merchants, cooks, business owners, creatives, and activists there than one could imagine. I remember Juneteenth being a celebration of freedom, and we did not only mark it with a parade. We celebrated by exercising the skills we were able to use to make a living after we were liberated. There was almost a rebellious nature in our celebration. We were parading our liberation, and enjoying cooperative economics: keeping our money within our community.
Juanita: I didn’t react. I believe that this holiday was rich and meaningful without government interference.
Veronica: My reaction initially was excitement, because it meant that the government was finally acknowledging its role in subjugating people of color. There could be no more pretending. Almost immediately though, I felt angry. It was only a matter of time before white business owners would commercialize the celebration, and attempt to capitalize on our jubilee.
Juanita: I haven’t changed the way I celebrated this holiday. I attend festivals and support Black businesses as I did before the change.
Veronica: Over the years the Juneteenth celebration in Denver has shrunk, much of which is due to gentrification. They have raised booth fees, and it is increasingly difficult for Black businesses to participate. Needless to say, this prevents a valuable opportunity for white business owners to participate in the market part of the festival. (This defeats the purpose.) We do not have a Juneteenth celebration in my current city.
Juanita: During June, I become more intentional about supporting as many Black businesses as possible. I explain the holiday to my children, and I attend festivals so that my children can see the broadness of Black talents, culture, and history in the making.
Veronica: There are two things that I will be doing this year to commemorate Juneteenth.
Juanita Crumbly-Franklin is a doctoral candidate at Tennessee State University. Juanita’s research interest is in the pedagogical content knowledge of elementary school teachers.
Watch Juanita discuss her research in more depth, share her thoughts on racism in science education, and give valuable advice to science students:
Veronica Wiley is a doctoral candidate at Jackson State University. Veronica’s research interest is in educational leadership and administration as well as resistance pedagogy.
Watch Veronica discuss her educational journey and her work in anti-racist science education:
You can also hear Veronica’s advice about teaching, studying, and anti-racism: Veronica Wylie Shares Her Challenges and Advice About Teaching, Studying, and Antiracism[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]
Q&A with Annette Gordon-Reed, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard: A model for nation in family celebrations of Juneteenth – Harvard Gazette