I went to a great high school and took three years of social studies, which included United States history. Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, in New York, is a public magnet school that has a performance-based assessment component for its courses, which means you have to demonstrate that you can apply the knowledge you learn, and do that through writing.
During your junior year, you’re required to write a PBAT (performance-based assessment task) that requires significant instruction, preparation, high level reading, writing, thinking, revision and presentation skills. Some of the topics we explored and wrote PBATs on in History classes were the American Revolution, the Native American encounter with Christopher Columbus, race relations, police brutality, etc. We studied a lot of nuanced topics in depth.
But it wasn’t until college that I learned what Juneteenth is, and its significance.
I’m on the executive board of a culture club at my college, called the Organization for Students of African Descent, which advocates for the specific concerns of the students of African ancestry. This role gives me the tools and resources to educate others on current and historical events, particularly things we should know about our African ancestry. It was through an event hosted by my club that I first learned about Juneteenth.
What is Juneteenth?
According to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and Juneteenth.com, it is a celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union Soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas, to announce that the war had ended and that all enslaved people were now free. The day became known as the African American Emancipation Day, and is recognized today as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, and celebrated every June 19.
On January 1, 1863—more than two and a half years before Granger came to Galveston—President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. So why exactly did it take two years for the slaves in Texas to be freed? Texas was part of the Confederacy. The Civil War ended in April 1865. Some historians theorize that slave owners purposely hid this information as a way to maintain their labor force.
In today’s history, Juneteenth serves as a celebration of African American freedom and a chance to spread knowledge and educate Americans about our history, and what the process of freeing us from slavery was like.
Some people celebrate the observance as a day, others as a week or the entire month of June. Though it’s not a federal holiday, all but five states recognize the holiday (Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Dakota do not). Texas was the first state to officially recognize Juneteenth, in 1980.
At our college campus, I served as the President for the Organization for Students of African Descent during the 2018-2019 school year. One of our goals is to enlighten students intellectually and culturally about the experience of people of African Ancestry.
For most people who attended the Juneteenth event, it was a shock to hear about this history. One person shared that she believed we didn’t learn about such things in the classroom because people view African American history as a subset to American History. Other students shared that if it wasn’t for their parents or grandparents, they would have no knowledge on Juneteenth.
For me personally, I recognize Juneteenth as a turning point of freedom for my ancestors. This is important to me because I am a young woman of color who also happens to be an immigrant. This knowledge I have learned has helped motivate me to be a next-generation leader. With our current political climate and the cultural dialogues surrounding race and immigration in America, I believe that knowing about the struggle for equality and racial injustice that our ancestors faced can influence us to call for action and keep fighting, because it’s far from over.
I’m glad I was able to learn about Juneteenth, and to help bring it to my college. It’s an important opportunity to educate ourselves and others. Too often, topics such as this are not covered in the classroom, and even when they are, creating a community and family-focused celebration can do more to bring it alive and engage the next generation to reflect on our history.
Today, on June 19, 2019, I plan to text my friends asking if they know what day it is, and about the history and importance of Juneteenth. If not, I’ll give them a brief lesson on the topic and explain why it matters to me. I’ll also post a meme on all my social media platforms about Juneteenth because I know that spreading the word can go a long way.
Going forward, I think more schools should explicitly teach about Juneteenth, especially considering that many high schools are in class past June 19. That will help make sure that African American history isn’t limited to February for Black History Month, because in the world we live in, it’s so important to think about the history we learn and whose stories are told.
Here are some more resources about Juneteenth:
Daisia is currently a Senior attending The College at Brockport with a love for event planning, traveling, and advocating for her peers. As SparkAction’s Event Planning and Mission Support Intern, she is helping to support project managers and event planners with all aspects of an upcoming leadership Academy in Brooklyn, as well as support the SparkAction team in day-to-day tasks. Daisia is passionate about advocating for students from an African American background, as she was the President for the Organization for Students of African Descent at SUNY Brockport and is currently the Culture Council Senator for the Brockport Student Government.