Reflections on Celebrating Juneteenth

Friday, June 17, 2022 - 4:00pm

Patricia Harrison-Monroe, PhD
On June 19, 1865, Black slaves in Galveston, Texas, were informed that two years earlier, President Abraham Lincoln had declared the freedom of enslaved people. (Please click here for the text of the Emancipation Proclamation.)

While Juneteenth has been a day of commemoration and celebration since 1866, many remain unaware of its history and importance.  It is now the newest Federal holiday and was signed into law on June 17, 2021, by President Joe Biden to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S. following the conclusion of the Civil War.  It is also the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was adopted in 1983.
Not surprisingly, many corporations have jumped on the monetizing opportunity that this newest federal holiday brings.  As several social justice and public policy experts have pointed out, the sudden commercial recognition of a holiday Black families have been celebrating for more than 160 years, misses its historical importance.  It would be great to see this holiday inspire a corporate focus on education, for example creating a scholarship fund, or sponsoring anti-racism public service announcements, or recognizing this as an opportunity to review and address corporate policies and practices that inhibit diverse hiring or maintain other workplace inequalities. Instead, recent attempts to promote Juneteenth-themed products have highlighted how uninformed and disingenuous many of these celebratory initiatives are. 
Yes, Juneteenth is often celebrated with food, and yes red foods are often included to symbolically remind of the blood that was shed during hundreds of years of slavery, but no we don’t need a new red velvet Juneteenth ice cream flavor, or Juneteenth gratuitously added to a range of products, or a new celebratory Juneteenth menu item of watermelon salad. How is it that such insensitivities and affronts are not recognized at time of development, before a public outcry requires apologies and pulling products off the shelf?
Let’s all strive to be more thoughtful about our words and actions and let us be more cognizant of a history that affects us all to this day.
To encourage the celebration and provide context for this holiday, here is a partial reading list from the National Museum of African American History & Culture for your consideration, inspired by a quote from Frederick Douglass: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

Happy Juneteenth!