Juneteenth celebration in Austin, Texas, on June 19, 1900
By Andrea Price
Wilmar, AR, a community of about 500 people, is home to one of the largest Juneteenth celebrations in the country. The celebration in Wilmar is affectionately known as June Dinner and people from all over the country converge on this community to celebrate family, love, and the emancipation of enslaved people in America. I’ve attended year after year and now my children participate in the June Dinner tradition. The smell of barbecue, the sounds of motorcycles and blues, the feel of the thick Arkansas heat, and the sight of friends and family permeate the atmosphere during this yearly celebration. For as long as I can remember, I’ve celebrated Juneteenth, even before knowing the significance of this special time of year.
Legal slavery was the greatest human rights violation in the history of the United States. The physical and psychological trauma Black people experienced during this evil time in American history is a reality that is hard to imagine, and for some, hard to accept. The convergence of public policy, morality, and even a civil war had to take place in order to change the trajectory of what it meant to be a Black in America.
After hundreds of years of chattel slavery, the emancipation proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, but for some enslaved people, the news of the end of slavery didn’t become known until June 19, 1865. Thus, the holiday we know as Juneteenth was born and is celebrated every June 19th.
Yes, legal, chattel slavery ended in 1863, but unfortunately the systemic marginalization of Black people in America morphed and a constant fight for the emancipation has ensued. The evil remnants of slavery have been passed down from generation to generation and the terrorization of Black people in America has been a constant. The gruesome massacre of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, The Honorable Rev. Clementa PinckneyTywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC is a reminder of this evil remnant and gives Juneteenth a completely new meaning.
This latest act of terrorism should be a call of action to attach current causes to Juneteenth. Juneteenth could serve as a time to reflect on our history, examine our present social, economic, and political struggles, and plan for a future where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a reality for ALL people.
We can’t rest on the laurels of yesteryear, but rather we have to recommit ourselves to causes that are designed to emancipate us from our current, shared struggles. What better time to do this than Juneteenth!