Juneteenth Reminds Us How Far We’ve Come, How Far We Have to Go
Millions celebrated. Here’s how Juneteenth looked across the United States.
Momentum took a look at how three cities — Detroit, Houston, and Los Angeles — celebrated Juneteenth 2020, the 150th anniversary of the historic emancipation of enslaved people in Texas. Read the essay, and then join us on a visual tour of America’s Juneteenth.
Millions of people in the United States celebrated Juneteenth — a holiday commemorating the emancipation of Black people from chattel slavery — last Friday. This year’s celebration came after nearly a month of nationwide protests against police violence sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Before this year, Juneteenth was a holiday that wasn’t well known outside the Black community. But this year was different: A heightened awareness of racial justice and a desire to learn more about Black history coincided with the holiday and led to companies officially recognizing it as an annual holiday and calls from U.S. senators to make it a federal holiday.
Many people might just be learning about Juneteenth, but like many Black children in the United States, I was exposed to it early on. And, to be honest, it was a holiday that always troubled me when I was younger.
I remember learning about the Emancipation Proclamation getting signed in 1863 and then realizing that it took two and a half years for enslaved people in Texas to be emancipated on what became known as Juneteenth. For a moment, my young self couldn’t fathom that people weren’t just automatically set free by the stroke of a pen. The history lessons illuminated for me how progress in this country is something won through constant, thorough, persistent struggle.
But it also felt like a lie. Emancipation felt like a lie. I had family members who had been to prison, and only years after learning about Juneteenth, my favorite cousin was imprisoned. Whenever the holiday was mentioned in my youth, I always wondered, “What about everybody who’s locked up? Where is their freedom?”
As I got older, I learned how American slavery found new life in our jail and prison system from the work of people like Michelle Alexander, Ava DuVernay, and Angela…