Happy Juneteenth! Juneteenth is Not Enough
Dear Howard University Community,
Our Howard University community is rich with valuable resources through our esteemed faculty, researchers and historians. I hope you had a chance to view our social media feeds over the past few months to see some of their great insights on the news of the day as captured in local and national media outlets. To continue to share this knowledge, I will invite members of our community to share with us all as a community of educators and learners their perspectives on current events and topical issues. Today, I am pleased to welcome Dr. Greg Carr, Chair of Afro American Studies, to present a message on Juneteenth.
Happy Juneteeth! Juneteenth is Not Enough
By: Greg Carr, Ph.D.
On June 1865, General Gordon Granger and nearly two thousand Union Army troops arrived in the defiant state of Texas, last state in the Confederacy to surrender during the US Civil War. Among the troops were nine regiments of US Colored Troops who spread word of Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation among their brethren, thereby enforcing the document’s promise that the enslaved were “then, thenceforthand forever free.” The following year, Africans in Galveston and surrounding areas began a ritual of celebration and return that we know today as “Juneteenth,” a rite of self-determination, freedom and commitment to continue to make a better world.
Since that time, Juneteenth observations have spread to nearly every state in the union as well as to parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. The holiday has been an official Texas state holiday since 1980 thanks to the efforts of the late State Representative Al Edwards, a Houston-born graduate of Texas Southern University known as the “Father of Juneteenth.” This week, New York and Virginia joined Texas in making Juneteenth an official state holiday.
As one of the many emancipation celebrations of the African diaspora, the holiday has cousins in the Emancipation Days of the Caribbean and is preceded by the Watch Night/Freedom’s Eve/Emancipation Day ritual of December 31-January 1 in the United States. At Howard, we also celebrate the District of Columbia’s Emancipation Day, April 16, another cousin of Juneteenth and a day that marked the freeing of the only Africans Abraham Lincoln freed who were under the direct authority of the federal government at the time. We have raised the red and blue Juneteenth Flag created in Massachusetts in 1997, at our flagpole to mark this day. In other words, in both symbol and spirit, we take our responsibility to our ancestors to act in the living now as a part of our blood debt to the past and the future.
Less than one month ago, George Floyd was alive and most of America outside of Black America did not know much, if anything, about Juneteenth. George Floyd was a graduate of Houston’s Jack Yates High School. Yates was a formerly enslaved man who, in 1872, joined other formerly enslaved people who bought a piece of land for $1,000 and named it “Emancipation Park” to use for the celebration of Juneteenth. Now, as the United States faces an opportunity to be transformed by a multiracial, intergenerational, multiclass social movement perhaps unlike anything we have seen in living memory, we pause today to remember that our ancestors faced even more daunting challenges than we face today, and found a way to make a way for us.
As we wish everyone a Happy Juneteenth, we recognize that holidays and symbols, while important, are not enough. It is up to us earn the legacy we have inherited. Long live the spirit of Juneteenth!
Excellence in Truth and Service,
Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA