Why Black People Make Such a Big Deal About Juneteenth

Growing up as a millennial, you could walk into any random convenience store or souvenir shop in the 90s and find a tower of mini license plates. Amongst those plates were plenty of Michael’s, Amanda’s, Justin’s, Ashley’s, and even my name – Stephanie. Despite my name’s popularity back then, it was never spelled right. With my name having the “Y” instead of the “I” at the end, I was forced to either settle for a misspelled plate or nothing at all. As an adult, I came to have a love for personalized belongings with my name on it, but at the same time, a hatred for it being misspelled. For us black folks, Juneteenth is a name we haven’t been able to find on the rotating column of American holidays until now, and it’s a big deal.

Growing up, we always celebrated the 4th of July. Like everyone else, we would dress up in our red, white and blue, eat some barbeque, and find a local display of fireworks. It wasn’t until attending an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) that I realized the celebration of independence America made from England had nothing to do with my ancestors. We were enslaved prisoners at that time and at least another century from freedom. 

The name “Juneteenth” actually refers to June 19th, 1865, the day in which troops arrived to Galveston, TX to make sure all the slaves were free. The interesting thing is that their arrival came a whole two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, meaning the Confederate states that still had slaves had no idea that they were actually already free. In comparison, this would be like driving all the way to Disneyworld, just to get there and find out it had closed two hours before. Knowing this as a black woman, black mother, black wife, and black person, how can I celebrate a holiday in July that was never made to celebrate me being free? 

Although the federal government giving Juneteenth its long-overdue recognition is notable, it’s a harsh reminder of how American culture has no problem with continuing to sweep its dark past under the rug. Black people have had it the hardest for generations and even though we appreciate the day off, we are glad to have finally found a license plate with our name on it and it’s a big deal. 

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