first, to my Black American kinfolk, Happy Juneteenth. this one goes out to all of us. vibe out to it because it really is just how i feel today.
a lot has been said about Juneteenth this year, particularly in light of it becoming a federal holiday this week. this holiday has taken on a new life that has caused more than just conversation. it has caused concern. our holiday has somehow gotten leaked into hands that do not mean well. this week, i’ve read poignant words of the danger and shortsightedness of this performative symbolism, particularly as we, as a collective, have been asking, crying, and praying for more robust and humanizing legislation. legislation that will protect us and our families in American streets. legislation that will formally acknowledge the horrors that we have sustained within this country. legislation that will repay us and our children, as descendants of the enslaved, for the labor that made this nation into a global superpower. for decades, we’ve waited for this. and this week, the national government made Juneteenth a national holiday? while this move could be interpreted in a few ways, it falls short because it is simply not what we’ve asked for.
in fact, i fear that this will take us ever further from the marks of justice and equity. our Freedom Day is now being framed as a day of celebrating freedom, and Americans are being invited to take the day to learn about Black history and the contributions of African-Americans. i lament this irony and the willing erasure of the true history of this day. what is most critical to know about this day is that it would not have existed in slaveholders in Texas hadn’t enslaved Black folks for an additional two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. if the national government wanted to make today a national holiday, they should have also made it a national day of atonement for white Americans. which leads me back to the point that until we get what we ask for, what we are due, in the forms of a formal apology, reparations, and life-saving legislation, this “national holiday” will be powerless and symbolic.
what it won’t be, however, is forgotten. because, long before this was a “national holiday,” we’ve been celebrating Juneteenth, every year. especially those of us who are from Texas. since my childhood, this was a day to be with family. to be immersed in community. to remember the story through our chosen symbols and traditions. to relax the code-switch in public because we were amongst our own.
let me paint the picture:
it’s the memory for me.
we would get dressed in shorts and tank tops.
san antonio sun in june was no joke.
pack a little cooler.
we would pile into the car and head to Comanche Park on the East Side.
this was the Black city park. near our local historically Black college, St. Phillips College. near some of our most historic Black churches, situated on every other corner. on the East Side. where every Black in town had some business or another. if you didn’t live there, you went to church there. you ate at Tuckers. you took in the art and performances at the Carver. my sorors and i would meet at the Delta House, near burial site of one of our Founders. you watched the Spurs play at the Alamodome, and later, at the AT&T Center. you would journey under the bridge to the Riverwalk, especially during Fiesta.
oh, but on this day, we were all there for one purpose: Juneteenth. the annual parade that would fan out into
a prayer meeting.
a low-key family reunion.
a motorcade of Black bikers.
a rodeo of Black cowboys.
a fashion extravaganza.
you would have to get there early to catch the full parade.
and if you did, you beheld
the best Black bands.
youth sports teams and cheerleading squads.
church deacons and mothers, waving their banners, donning the names of their pastors and full names and addresses of their church homes.
local Black politicians, representing their districts.
the Divine Nine.
the Links and Jack and Jill.
the NAACP. the Knights of St. Peter Claver.
all of these local chapters, marching in their colors and regalia.
powerful percussion keeping time, the entire time.
it was loud and out-in-the-open. before “taking up space” was a thing, we did it.
just as free as we wanted to be. on Freedom Day.
after the parade, we would file into the park and gather around a stage. families, churches and local civic organizations would have their tents, where their members and friends would congregate and enjoy the day together.
on the outskirts of the park, there were booths with all kinds of food.
everyone served something red to drink (#iykyk).
there was such abundance.
such richness of culture and taste. such a Diasporan experience.
for hours, we were entertained by church choirs. some where robed, and some came as they were.
local singing groups and soloists, modelings themselves after the best groups and soloists that 90’s R&B had to offer.
local poets gave us spoken word, praising Blackness.
Black politicians and pastors brought greetings.
children’s dance troupes dazzled in matching outfits, made-up faces, and dance moves that were choreographed to a tee.
an elder would always remind us of why we were there:
“it took us a little longer,” i remember one saying. “but, eventually, we was free, too. us down here in Texas.”
the day wouldn’t conclude until we joined our voices for “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
at the time, i didn’t discern the sadness and the tragedy within the story.
because these were not centered in how my community told the story.
they didn’t have to be centered for us to know that some serious wrong had been done.
in that park, I learned that as a Black girl, i could become fixated on the evils of the oppressors and the hardness of Black history, or —
or (there’s always an ‘or’) —
i could become transfixed by the beauty of my People.
i could lose myself in my Black laughter with my siblings and our church friends.
i could watch my mother parlay with her girlfriends, and beam at how pretty she was (and is).
i could find a little spot and dance to the music that emanated from the stage.
i could enjoy the way the sun felt on my melanin before Dusk settled in.
i could go find an elder and sit on their lap.
i could drink the red without concern for the way it would stain my upper lip.
i could eat the red velvet cake without concern for where it would stick on my body.
i could look forward to talking to Nanny when we got home, and discussing what we did to celebrate Juneteenth. because this was what you do when you’re Black and Texan.
Black and free.
in that park, i learned a strategy for living and luxuriating in Black joy: choose it. there is always an ‘or.’ always another story. evil is never the only narrative! knowing your history is one thing. allowing it to destroy your peace is another. white supremacy, as real as it is, is one thing. Black life and freedom and agency are another. choosing to surrender to moments of celebration, and to creating them, are forms of rest and resistance. telling the story how it must have felt to exit the plantation does not negate the cruelty of two additional years. it actually does the wondrous work of centering Black will and faith, thereby imbuing us with voices strong and resounding enough to tell our own stories.
tonight, it’s the memory for me. it’s from this memory that i lived today, as a ran my first 5K. as my parents and i went to the East Point Juneteenth parade and festival, and stayed as long as we could before the rain picked up. it’s from this memory that i honor my ancestors. it’s this memory that teach, and attempt to re-create, for my children. it’s what i choose to pass down.
i hope you’ve had a blessed Juneteenth. happy Freedom Day, my People.