I’ve known about Juneteenth Day for as long a I can remember. It was something to look forward to each summer. It was a great place to hang out, mingle, and let’s not forget the good eats and treats! Thousands attended, and I was always bound to run into someone I knew. But oddly enough, in all my years attending, I never once considered what was being celebrated.
Fact is, many people don’t understand the history behind the festival. I have a white friend who told me he had never even heard of the celebration. Coincidently, as a black man, I was ashamed to admit I had just recently learned of the history. We were both appalled that in all our years of living, we had missed this part of American history.
Juneteenth Day is the oldest known celebration commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States. One may conceive it as the fourth of July for blacks. In 1865, soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas on June 19th with the news the Civil War had ended. This meant all who were enslaved were free.
The news came two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had actually become law on January 1, 1863, and some claimed the news had been deliberately withheld by the enslavers to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest. But despite this, upon hearing the news they were free; the slaves of Galveston rejoiced in the streets.
The following year, former slaves organized the first annual celebration of Juneteenth in Texas. As time passed, it spread to other cities across the United States. Currently, Milwaukee is known to have the largest Juneteenth celebration in the country. Northcott Neighborhood House, a staple of the community since 1961 is the organizer of the event.
As epikos engages the North Side of Milwaukee, we embrace the culture and narratives that have impacted so many. We are taking a posture of listening and learning as we seek to connect and bridge the gaps to cultural unity and understanding. One step in that direction is presented as we come together as a church to serve at this year’s Juneteenth Day celebration on Sunday, June 19, 2016. While I am still looking forward to some good eats and treats, I take time to reflect on how our troubling past can inform how we might approach a brighter future.