Even then, the schoolbooks and the teachers’ curricula didn’t highlight Juneteenth. Griffin’s neighborhood, much like that of my mother’s, made sure that young people carried the torch for such an important date in, not just black history, but American history.
When she was in school, my mother’s uncle would take her and her brother to White Rock Lake every year to celebrate. While I was growing up, she’d wake my brother and me early on a Saturday morning to go to her old neighborhood’s Juneteenth parade.
In pockets of America, though, there will be barbecues, festivals, parades and picnics taking place this weekend from Richmond, Va., to Eatonville, Fla. And, of course, in Galveston, 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 has been organizing Galveston’s Juneteenth parade since he returned to the island in 1991. A few years ago he told me that he hopes 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 of all the events to make sure their children understand the holiday’s importance.
“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, Obama supported a call to make Juneteenth a national holiday, but in 2013 he didn’t even release a Juneteenth proclamation, as he had in previous years. A bit dismayed, last December Dr. Ron Myers, chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, wrote a letter to the president asking for his support of the “modern Juneteenth movement.”
“You can’t talk about freedom in America unless you deal with the 19th of June and the Fourth of July,” wrote Myers, a 58-year-old physician in Belzoni, Miss. “Juneteenth gives Americans the most opportune time to take a moment to reflect on the legacy of slavery.”
Started in 1994, the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation hopes to get legislation passed so that June 19 is designated Juneteenth Independence Day. But so far the resolution has been rejected in the Senate, and Obama has yet to respond to Myers’ letter.
In a way, and I hate to say this, the celebration has taken on the same popularity wave as 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’ll be continuing my own grassroots celebration in New York City. I’ll grab some of my friends, go to a black-owned restaurant and tell the Juneteenth story to anyone who’ll listen.