Juneteenth: Capsulated in Celebration, Created Through Chaos

Words by Amyiah Golden


From picnics and rodeos to art exhibits and cinema, promotions of events labeled as Juneteenth celebrations don’t necessarily equate to a joyous history.


While Juneteenth originated in Texas on June 19, 1921, the pain of the past surpassed borders, serving as a sad reminder for many people of not only the initial enslavement of their ancestors but also the two additional years of illegal captivity that they faced following the Emancipation Proclamation. 


Juneteenth is recorded as the oldest tradition in the United States that honors the freeing of enslaved people, but it was not federally recognized until June 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan legislation into law. 


“The emancipation of enslaved Black Americans was not the end of our nation’s work to deliver on the promise of equality — it was only the beginning,” Biden said in his official White House statement. “On Juneteenth, we recommit to our shared work to ensure racial justice, equity and equality in America.” 


The national resurgence of the holiday was sparked after the 2020 summer of protests related to the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of law enforcement. The discourse surrounding police, Black lives and the historical remnants encouraged the embrace of Black history — history that I, as a Black woman, did not even know about.


Juneteenth was not discussed in any of the classrooms I sat in. So, as the highly symbolic holiday of Juneteenth is blanketed in barbecues and fashion shows, it will forever remain as a mortifying reminder of the system of power that was established and the implications that continue to prevail.


While Juneteenth marked new beginnings for Black Americans, it was just a mere stepping stone in the direction of proper autonomy. 


From 1865 to 1877, freed slaves were met with the Reconstruction period, an era of proposed reintegration. But the attempt was short-lived as many “Black Codes” were put into place to further restrict their newfound liberation. Entrenched with government and social obstacles, Black people would soon be introduced to severe racial segregation throughout the Jim Crow era. These local and state statutes did not just simply place racial partitions in restaurants and churches but also denied Black Americans the right to vote, limited job opportunities and hindered educational pursuits. With these restrictions also came acts of unprovoked violence and unjustified arrests. 


The Jim Crow era stifled much Black success and growth, but Black achievement was not null and void. 


Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District was the place to be in the early 1900s. Referred to as “Black Wall Street,” it was considered the most affuent Black community in the United States at the time. After the purchase of 40 acres of land by the affluent, Ottawa (O.W.) Gurley, a former school principal and store owner, a community of 9,000 other successful Black Americans, filled with doctors, lawyers, educators and business owners integrated into a deemed “safe space” with the aspiration to thrive. Tulsa was the epicenter for Black flourishment until May 30, 1921, when Black Wall Street came to a devastating end. 


As a white mob flocked to the county courthouse with the intention to lynch a Black teen, efforts from citizens to stop the mob led to a struggle between two men that erupted in gunfire. This is cited as the preface for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, a mass genocide that left an estimated 300 people dead. 


Yet another prominent historical account of racial desolation that I wasn’t informed about until the recent re-acknowledgement of Juneteenth. This holiday goes far beyond the emancipation of my ancestors: It reignites the conversation around the work that must be done to inform, remember and prevent any other occurrences of devastation.


The fight for total freedom loomed way past June 19, 1865. Although, this day was a step in the right direction, it was just the introduction to a long fight in civil progression and equality. 


We celebrate Juneteenth with pride, but we also remember the egregious errors that held 250,000 people captive for an additional 2½ years. 


We celebrate Juneteenth to express Black joy.


We celebrate Juneteenth because we are grateful for the liberation that our ancestors so tirelessly fought for and the freedoms we are now granted.