This Juneteenth we are taking a look at how the past can be celebrated in the present!
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free."
Those are the opening words of General Order No. 3, announced by Union General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865, officially ending the enslavement of unincarcerated Black people in the United States.
Powerful stuff, if a little unenthusiastic.
And it only took about two and a half extra years past the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation for this address to be given.
But analysis on the effects of how quickly news could travel before electronic communication, the reluctance to see individuals of all colors as equals that informs laws even to this day, and deep diving into how and why the Proclamation itself wasn’t one of those ‘applicable immediately post my leaving this podium’ type of things in the first place is best left to another publishing for another time and assigned to someone who isn’t me.
If it were me, it’d be a video essay of something like this for several hours:
Nobody wants to see that.
But all tardiness and injustice aside (for now), the beautiful thing about this date is that for decades to follow that announcement, June 19th has been celebrated in Texas and Southern states by Black people, and coined 'Juneteenth'. I love a good portmanteau, and despite being Afro-Caribbean in ancestry, I'm Texan by birth. Something as arbitrary as a boat stop isn't going to stop my people from being MY people, and it's not going to stop me from gassing all of us up at every opportunity. So instead of hamfistedly venting my spleen, in observance of Juneteenth, I would like to focus more on the positive aspects of the first step in America's involuntary Black Diaspora leaving behind more overt systemic bondage. As important as it is to look at how the evils of the past influence the present, it is also necessary to step back and see what is open to us now that wasn't before.
And one of the doors that I love seeing open the most is how much more access we have to pieces of older West African culture!
Pictured above is the aptest visual I have ever included in any piece I have written in my entire life.
Naturally, with cultural erasure present in the form of brutally restrictive laws throughout the Americas and imperialized Africa, what we have in hand today can be compared to a few bright threads from a ravaged tapestry. However, we not out here seeing the amazing woven work done with the increasing amounts of information we can access now?
The aesthetic choices in Beyonce’s “Lemonade” and Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" stand out as more popular examples of cultural references drawn from our area of origin and filtered through a lens in the New World, but creators like Princess Nokia and Bree Newsome (whom you will remember for having bravely scaled a flagpole to remove an oppressive symbol) that are not quite household names (yet) are also bringing on the heritage in their own amazing works!
Even in our own more mundane lives, our roots are still showing, from the bright colors and rooftop shaking choirs often found in Black churches, regardless of denomination, to New Year's black eyed peas, and beyond! As for myself, I opt to stay connected with research, DIY-ing some of my health and beauty products, and since I know learning to weave would result in some kind of horrific loom-related accident, I take some of the traditionally bright colors my ancestors loved into beaded bracelets.
It's still working from the threads, but now that thread is elastic.
As today's headlines show, there is still a lot of work to be done, not just in Texas, or the United States, but the world over.
However, change is happening.
Students attending my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin, no longer have to walk under the shadow of a Confederate soldier as I did. And incoming freshmen can walk past Senator Barbara Jordan, as I did not get to for some time. And of course, I do draw no small amount of comfort from knowing that I can take the blessings of my passed on family into my future as a (semi-belligerently) proud Afro-Texan woman.
Even though my state dragged its feet to the bell, freedom still rings.
I intend to dance along with the song.