Our Independence Day – Ep.91

Championing Our Service Members – Ep.90
May 24, 2023
Making Yourself a Priority – Ep.92
June 7, 2023

On this week’s episode, Melyssa honors the history and legacy of America’s second Independence Day, Juneteenth.  

Melyssa Barrett: Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started.

Have you ever wondered what it was like for enslaved people? Whether it was your own family, your ancestors, or not, have you ever just taken in what their experience must have been like? Now, I know there’s movies that are being told, there are podcasts, there are stories that are being told. But to be stripped of aspects of life, to feel like you’re never good enough or worthy, to be constantly trying to do things, not be able to get ahead, or the variety of the games that were played, right? The rules were established and then the rules changed for some people. The rules and policies made to ensure that some were successful, that whites were successful and had the structure they needed to continue to thrive, the ability to use enslaved people as free labor to create and continue to create generational wealth.

So there are so many that are excited about July 4th and Independence Day, which is wonderful. If you look at who signed the Declaration of Independence, you don’t see a lot of ethnic diversity in the group. So there are many times when I have heard CEOs talking about things like our Founding Fathers. I always wonder if they really believe that the Founding Fathers were ours. And while I can certainly appreciate the work and freedom of the Declaration of Independence, I also appreciate Juneteenth. It’s not an either or. You can actually appreciate and acknowledge them both. So what is Juneteenth? While Juneteenth is now finally a federal holiday, Juneteenth commemorates the anniversary of general order number three, issued formally by General Gordon Granger on June 19th, 1865, informing Texas residents that slavery had ended and proclaiming freedom for enslaved people.

So let’s think about this. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1862, but effective January 1st of 1863. And here we are, let’s just say in 1865, and slave owners were blatantly disregarding the law and still using slave labor. It’s not that people weren’t aware that slavery was over. I think people may be under some impression that nobody knew what was going on in the rest of the country. But I just ask you to imagine someone riding in on a horse, putting up an order that tells everyone, slaves and slave owners, that the slaves are free. The celebration of Juneteenth originating in Galveston has spread throughout the US, of course, starting in Texas, celebrating African American culture. It didn’t end slavery in states that remained in the Union. It was still legal in places like Delaware and Kentucky. And only the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery nationwide.

And even then, some of the Choctaw Tribe were not released until 1866. While Texas was the first state to legally observe Juneteenth in 1980, it wasn’t until 2008 that half of the states recognized it in some way. And in 2019, 47 states recognized Juneteenth, and not as a paid holiday until 2019. With the aftermath of George Floyd, more states designated Juneteenth as a paid holiday. And finally, in 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law after many efforts of so many, including Lula Briggs, Galloway, and Opal Lee. But I do want to say, South Dakota, which adopted an ordinance to make Juneteenth a paid holiday in 2020 only for that year, so it was a temporary ordinance. Finally, in February of 2022, just a year ago, they were the last state to recognize Juneteenth as an annual holiday or observance. And while most states, counties, or cities recognize Juneteenth through a proclamation, less than half of the states have made Juneteenth a paid state holiday.

And with the exception of one, Texas, back in 1980, all of the states have made it a paid holiday in the last three to four years. All of the states which have done it, which is not all of the states in the United States, but there’s about half of them. So, I say all that to say this. I hope you will take the time to really think about the journey of African American freedom. Juneteenth celebrates African American resilience and achievement while preserving history and the narratives that promoted racial and personal advancement. It is absolutely our country’s second Independence Day, this place where we are often told that we don’t have a culture. Bringing in African American arts to the celebration, and now even being celebrated in parts of Mexico by the Black Seminoles. This is a day when everyone should be able to understand the historical legacy of Juneteenth, its meaning, and the hope of our ancestors realized.

Juneteenth celebrations happen all over the United States, and my family and I always love attending. I have to admit, as I grew up, history was not one of my favorite subjects. And while my dad was always helping me understand the challenges that faced our culture, it wasn’t until after I married my husband that I truly started to appreciate how much history provides for us to learn from, except for the fact that when history isn’t told, right? So it’s why podcasts, books, articles, poems, even songs are so important. Our stories need to be told. And while our ancestors and the hope of our ancestors aren’t fully realized, Juneteenth is one of those celebrations that I love to enjoy. So for all of those who may be planning or attending Juneteenth this year, please make sure you include some history. My husband and I used to always talk about going to Juneteenth events, and there would not be any history. There would just be dancing and DJing.

And if you’re attending, read something, support someone, create some connection. Don’t just make it about DJs and dancing and picnics and food. Support Black artists, feature Black talent. And I know in many areas Juneteenth has even become a multicultural holiday. Invite people who have never been to a Juneteenth. And even if you have, support your local Juneteenth. Join the planning committees or the organizations putting them on. Trust me, they need donations. And these celebrations may include prayer breakfasts. I mean, here we give out our scholarships to youth. And they are presented to the community along with a lot of our political appointees and elected officials.

Music, business, products, they’re out there in booths connecting with the community. And we even have healthcare access and information available. And yes, Juneteenth is for everyone. So whatever culture you are, come out and experience Juneteenth, learn about it, understand it, enjoy it, and educate people around you. If you’re listening to this, you can help make changes, even small changes. Just begin by talking about the subject to maybe someone that is not familiar with it. Be Curious. Juneteenth is absolutely a celebration. Enjoy the celebration, but let’s not forget our history. And if you didn’t know, now you know. Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.