THE NEUTRAL ZONE
Today marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, a holiday celebrated by many black Americans commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. First celebrated in Texas in 1866, Juneteenth is not meant to commemorate the actual Emancipation Proclamation, rather the date on which black people in Texas officially heard the news two years later.
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio has named Juneteenth an official holiday, which will reportedly go into effect in 2021. The date will also be recognized as a public school holiday in New York. Many politicians and industry leaders are announcing that they will be following suit, with Virginia and Pennsylvania also declaring Juneteenth a national holiday. Texas was the first state to do so back in 1980. Many major companies including Uber, Twitter, and Nike declared Juneteenth a paid holiday for employees.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos issued a memo to employees offering a “range of online learning opportunities” and encouraged them to cancel all of their meetings if they could to “reflect, learn, and support each other.” Some Chicago Amazon workers spoke out about feeling “tokenized” by their Amazon facility offering “an authentic meal” of chicken and waffles to celebrate Juneteenth. Some decried the act as racist, others noted that Amazon could have shown support by making Juneteenth a paid holiday. Tesla CEO Elon Musk added his support, tweeting “Juneteenth is henceforth considered a US holiday at Tesla & SpaceX.” This announcement comes as Musk was reportedly facing pressure from employees of color working at Tesla who were planning a protest due to Musk’s lack of response during the protests. “We want actual support, not [a] statement that he could post online to make himself look good. If he really cared, he’ll show up at our protest,” one organizer stated.
In a New York Times column, writer and reporter Astead W. Herndon pointed to the significance of Tulsa as it relates to Juneteenth. Herndon wrote, “The exuberance more palpable, the music more soulful, against the backdrop of the 1921 white riot that killed an estimated 300 black Tulsans and destroyed the area once known as ‘Black Wall Street.'” Tulsa resident Jacquelyn Simmons is quoted stating “We’re celebrating the emancipation of slaves, but we’re really celebrating the idea of being black. We love it and we love us.” Cities and states across the U.S. will be celebrating in their own unique ways, as the holiday represents unique experiences, struggles, and stories in every city.
How We Juneteenth – New York Times – 6/18/20 No, we didn’t begin to live when, on the 19th June day of that awkward, ordinary spring—with no joy, in a monotone still flecked with deceit—Seems you and these others are free. That moment did not begin our breath. Our truths—the ones we’d been birthed with—had already met reckoning in the fields as we muttered tangled nouns of home.
Juneteenth and the Meaning of Freedom – The New Yorker – 6/19/20 But Texas was in rebellion, and its black population did qualify for freedom on January 1, 1863, when the proclamation took effect. Texas ignored the proclamation, as did the ten other Confederate states. This all indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the significance of Juneteenth. The fact that slaveholders extracted thirty additional months of uncompensated labor from people who had been bought, sold, and worked to exhaustion, like livestock, throughout their lives is cause for mourning, not celebration. In honoring that moment, we should recognize a moral at the heart of that day in Galveston and in the entirety of American life: there is a vast chasm between the concept of freedom inscribed on paper and the reality of freedom in our lives.
How Juneteenth’s history is being reshaped as America reckons with its past – NBC News – 6/19/20 It had been 2½ years since President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, freeing every man, woman and child enslaved in the rebel states. And it had been more than two months since Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered, ending the nation’s bloody four-year Civil War. But as the roughly 2,000 soldiers assigned to accompany Union Gen. Gordon Granger came ashore on Galveston Island, Texas, in mid-June 1865, the truth could not be missed. There were still enslaved people in Galveston. A group of colored soldiers approached Granger and said it plain: You will do something about this, or we will.
Thousands gather across metro Atlanta to celebrate Juneteenth – WSBTV – 6/19/20 Fernandes said organizers said they counted more than 6,000 people at the Park, where the atmosphere was much like church. Attendees sang gospel songs, talked about God and how Christians need to celebrate Juneteenth and not be silent in this fight for racial equity. Church leaders who took the state talked a lot about what Christians didn’t do back in the 1960s and how that hurt racial equality in this country. The crowd at Centennial Olympic Park Friday said ‘no more.’ One couple Fernandes spoke to said they didn’t even know what Juneteenth was until a pastor invited them to the event. “A lot of us are learning about it, and i’ts such a wonderful day to come out here and demonstrate with other chrstians,” they said. “Again, we’re very encouraged.”
Black Joy—Not Corporate Acknowledgment—Is the Heart of Juneteenth – The Atlantic – 6/19/20 Over the past 40 years, 47 of 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have come to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or a day of observance, but it’s not yet a federal holiday. And given the current nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism, major corporations such as Nike, Uber, Spotify, and J. C. Penney have designated Juneteenth as a paid holiday. Though holidays, symbols, statues, and flags matter, it will take more than increased recognition of Juneteenth to combat racism.
Bernice King on Twitter, 6/19/20: Thank you for your tweets about #Juneteenth. If you’re a politician, we’re checking your policies. If you’re a corporation, we’re checking your board and equity practices. If you’re a church, we’re checking your demonstration of Christ. Systemic change > Symbolism
Larenz Tate on Twitter, 6/19/20: We honor & commemorate the lives & spirits of our ancestors who endured the vicious & evil cycle of enslavement. We remember those ancestors who were still trapped in bondage until they finally received delayed news of their FREEDOM 2.5 YEARS AFTER their emancipation. #Juneteenth
Penny Johnson Jerald on Twitter, 6/19/20: Gonna order food to pick up. Just truly learned the significance of having red items on Juneteenth. It represents the blood that was shed by blacks in slavery. BBQ, red drink non-alcohol, water melon, red velvet cake…