What Will Happen to Juneteenth?

Gen Y seems less than enthused about the day that slaves in Texas found out they were free. How will Black Independence Day fare in 2050?

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In pockets of America, though, there will be barbecues, festivals, parades, and picnics taking place this weekend, from Sacramento to Portland to, believe it or not, Des Moines, Iowa. And of course, in Galveston, Texas, where Gen. Granger delivered the good news, there’s a weeklong celebration filled with dances, exhibits, a gospel musical, a picnic, and a parade.

James Josey, 62, who has been organizing Galveston’s Juneteenth parade since he returned to the island in 1991, hopes that young people will come out and not just enjoy the free food, fun and games but also have a desire to one day take over the planning all the events, to make sure their children understand the holiday’s importance.

Like in Hamilton Park, though, Galveston ran into some funding problems in the past few years, too. After Hurricane Ike, Josey says, the city was too cash-strapped to support a Juneteenth celebration, but he was determined to keep the event alive. So Josey asked local stores and businesses to donate and to support the celebration. The community has to stay involved, he says, for the event to thrive and for there to be a greater understanding of the day’s meaning.

“It’s not just a party or a parade,” Josey says. “It’s history.”

And it’s a history that should be celebrated nationwide. Before he became president, Barack Obama supported a call to make Juneteenth a national holiday, and as of March of this year, 36 states recognize it as a state holiday. The push for a national day off, however, seems to have died down–so much so that a call to the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage was met with a “we’re sorry this number is no longer in service” message.

In a way, and I hate to say this, the celebration has taken on the same popularity wave of Kwanzaa. Remember when Kwanzaa was “the thing” to celebrate in the ’90s? I guess every black holiday has its day. But Juneteenth, which is marked by a real historic event, should not be just a fleeting fad of the black community. It should be celebrated. Robustly.

So this year, I’m starting my own grass-roots celebration ritual on the East Coast. I’ll grab some of my friends, go to a black-owned restaurant, and tell the Juneteenth story to anyone who’ll listen.

Ideally, the good news will travel fast.

Erin Evans is copy editor and writer for The Root. Follow her on Twitter and tell her how you’re celebrating #juneteenth.

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