Juneteenth: the Reason & the Reality 1

Written by Dawn Daniels McNear

Many people ask, “What is Juneteenth? What’s wrong with the Fourth of July? Why does everything have to be about separation? Can’t we all just get along?” The quick answers are African-American Freedom Day, everything and nothing, it’s not and yes, but it takes everyone being invested in diversity, equity and inclusion.

My upbringing was very diverse. I grew up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, attended racially diverse schools, and never felt that I stood out as an African American until I got to my predominantly white university. I majored in Cultural Anthropology, Sociology and Black World Studies, but I don’t remember Juneteenth ever being taught.

I learned that Independence Day was for white Americans, because in 1776, African Americans were still considered property with no rights.

I always knew that July 4th wasn’t for “us” (African Americans), but I didn’t know what “our” replacement holiday was. As a young child, I remember there being many different fireworks shows. African Americans watched in the park (in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, and white people watched from their individual suburbs. I vividly remember 1976 and all the celebrations related to the United States’ 200th year of freedom. Every ad, every billboard, every label showed white people in celebration for this anniversary. I didn’t
know any black person who was excited about July 4, 1976.

I learned that Independence Day was for white Americans, because in 1776, African Americans were still considered property with no rights. But, being a good American citizen, I celebrated the fourth of July like every other American; hot dogs, fireworks and a day off work.

Juneteenth: the Reason & the Reality 2
Juneteenth flag: American Red, White and Blue with
the Texas star and a “new” bursting star to celebrate freedom.

Independence Day for African Americans: June 19, 1865

As an adult, I learned that Juneteenth, a mash-up of the words June and nineteenth, was Independence Day for African Americans. Juneteenth commemorates the day (June 19,1865), in Galveston, Texas, that Union General Gordon Granger with 2,000 troops read the federal orders proclaiming that all enslaved people were free. The reading came a full 2 ½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. News didn’t travel fast back then, and slave masters were in no rush to release their free labor. Slave masters actively suppressed news of the emancipation in Confederate territories that were not under Union control.

I can’t even begin to understand the collective feelings of joy, fear, disbelief, and freedom. What followed the reading of the federal orders is now called “the scatter.” African Americans left their enslavement and “scattered” throughout the United States looking for family members. My ancestors left Mississippi and scattered to Colorado, Kansas and Illinois. It tickles me to know that some slaves started “the scatter” before General Granger even finished reading the federal order.

It makes sense to me that every American should want to celebrate the day when EVERY AMERICAN was free. That day would be June 19th.

I know many people will ask “Why don’t we all just celebrate the Fourth of July? It’s already a tradition, and everyone loves it?” I would retort with “Everything that’s a tradition is not good and upwards of 13% of the US population (2010 US Census) was not free in 1776. It makes sense to me that every American should want to celebrate the day when EVERY AMERICAN was free. That day would be June 19th .

July 4th and June 19th

When we celebrate July 4th, Independence Day, we are celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. That document declared that the 13 colonies were no longer subject to the British monarch. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed 87 years later, and it took 2 ½ additional years for all enslaved peoples to be freed. I don’t think that we need to get rid of one celebration to enjoy the other; we need to give room and acknowledgement for the importance of each day.

I don’t think that we need to get rid of one celebration to enjoy the other; we need to give room and acknowledgement for the importance of each day.

This year (2020), it feels more important than ever for my family and I to celebrate Juneteenth. Every day in Southwest Georgia I see remnants of these “traditions,” and I don’t love them! It’s a slap in the face to see confederate flags, streets and buildings named after known slave masters and to have someone paint a confederate flag on my daughter’s cheek as part of a face painting activity at a street fair.

In Germany today you will not find a single public statue lauding Adolph Hitler. The government recognizes that 1) They lost the war and 2) Any adoration of a figure who hurt and killed so many of their citizens is heartless and hurtful. I remind people that the south DID NOT WIN the war! Why are we celebrating the losing side and throwing it up in the face of our citizens who are descendants of slavery? It’s heartless and hurtful.

Celebrating Juneteenth

Juneteenth is not a Federal holiday, but in recent years many corporations have begun celebrating their African American employees by recognizing June 19th as a corporate holiday. A few of these corporations are Google, Habitat for Humanity International, JC Penny, Nike, NFL, The New York Times, Target,Twitter and Vox Media. Although Juneteenth is not a national holiday it is celebrated in most metropolitan cities with parades, rodeos, cookouts, street fairs, prayer services, fireworks and family gatherings.

Juneteenth Celebrations Generally Include:

  • Singing of the Black National Anthem
  • Recognition of the Juneteenth flag
  • Drinking of Red soda (recipe below)
  • Eating Red Velvet Cake, watermelon, and Marcus Garvey Bean Salad (mixture of red, black and green beans)
  • Barbecues and family get togethers

Red Foods Served on Juneteenth

The eating of red food items is thought to be in recognition of West African cultures, where red is a symbol of strength and spirituality.

The color red also symbolizes the blood of millions of enslaved people who suffered and died. The red soda was initially made with strawberries, hibiscus and kola nuts. Red soda is now a common staple at Juneteenth celebrations.

I pray that everyone stay safe, enjoy your loved ones and celebrate Juneteenth with the knowledge that America has come a long way but there’s still a long way to go. Happy Juneteenth!!!

Juneteenth: the Reason & the Reality 3

Strawberry Ginger Ale Recipe

Red soda is now a common staple at Juneteenth celebrations. Here’s a recipe for Strawberry Ginger Ale:

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces chopped peeled ginger
  • 8 ounces fresh strawberries chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 12 oz sugar
  • About 1-quart chilled club soda

Preparation

  • Combine water and sugar and over medium heat bring to a boil; stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved.
  • Add ginger and strawberries. Simmer for 10 minutes then remove from heat cover and let steep for 1 hour.
  • Strain mixture through a sieve into a bowl, pressing on strawberries and ginger and then discarding.
  • Chill syrup in a covered bowl or jar until cold.
  • Mix syrup with club soda to taste (start with ¼ cup syrup per ¾ cup club soda, then adjust to taste).

About the Author

Dawn Daniels McNear is an Americus-based friend of Café Campesino.  She moved to Americus 13 years ago with her husband and 3 children to continue her work with Habitat for Humanity. She approaches life with humor and radical candor. Her life motto is “If you don’t like me that’s okay, get in line with the others. Life is to short to let people who don’t matter, matter!

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