“Nobody freed me sir, I earned my freedom with a pitchfork and a knife!”
Moses Hunter, buffalo soldier and Civil War veteran, eldered his great-great-grandson, my father, who naively shared what he had just learned in school about President Lincoln freeing the slaves. This was a story repeatedly shared in the African American oral history tradition at our dinner table.
My feelings about Juneteenth* and its celebration are in some ways conflicted, though not specifically about the national holiday and its place in our history or culture. Rather, it is a simultaneous feeling of joy and gravity as I reflect on the journey—one of significant gains and significant losses—that Black Americans have taken through generations. For me, the holiday represents a time when African Americans take stock of where we are (and how far we’ve yet to go), to celebrate, and to frequent Black-owned businesses.
In this recognition, we have an opportunity—a responsibility—to do and to learn. We must educate our next generation about privilege, equity, and anti-racism and set into place measures that ensure that we are not condemned to repeat the past. As a society, we have a moral obligation to take this moment—this gesture—and leverage it into real, institutional change and progress.
How far have we come—or not come? Let us take time this Sunday, on Juneteenth, to reflect on the steps we have taken in both directions on the road to freedom, and to talk as friends, families, acquaintances, and colleagues about what we may do to further the work begun by generations before us. It starts with you and me—and the Green Acres care for each and every individual that makes this such a powerful, dynamic, and compassionate community. Happy Juneteenth!
Below are some educational resources and materials that I hope you find helpful:
*Juneteenth is an annual recognition of the moment when 250,000 enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas were told they were free on June 19, 1865—2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. (Courtesy of Outdoor Afro)