My father’s family left Louisiana for Southeast Texas in the early-60’s. It wasn’t a big jump, not even 100 miles, but it changed life for him and his siblings dramatically. His father had been a cottonfield sharecropper and his mother stayed home to raise him and his 13 siblings (yes, i have a huge family!), many of whom picked cotton alongside my grandfather, but moving to the city put that securely in their past. My dad came to California via the US Navy, where in 1967 he met my mother. They married, had my sister and me, and the rest is history.
But “history” is wherein the problem lies. I knew nothing about Juneteenth until my college years. In speaking with my aunt (my father’s older sister) about this Texas-born holiday, she expressed a sentiment that shackled me for decades. “Why would we celebrate n****s being too dumb to know they’d been free for two years? I ain’t celebrating that s***.” Suffice it to say, my auntie does not mince words! So this previously unknown holiday became a subject of ridicule for me, keeping me from passing it on to my children as it had been kept from me.
Fast forward to 2018. I had already started to fall out of love with the 4th of July, and was completely over it by that summer. I wasn’t feeling the barbecues or Red, White and Blues. And i surely wasn’t commemorating with any Old Glory themed cakes or specials. Stars and Stripes my ass. I had seen several advertisements for Juneteenth celebrations, but my auntie’s words kept ringing in my ears. I shook my head at whole festivals being commissioned to celebrate stupidity. Oh the irony. I commented as such on an Instagram post and was immediately run through the ringer by the melanated congregation. They handed me my hat and revoked my Black Card. I learned that day.
I fully understood that the 4th wasn’t about Us; freedom didn’t ring for Us that day. “We the People” didn’t include the chattle. All men were created equal, as long as you don’t consider kidnapped Africans as men. What I didn’t consider was that Juneteenth was Our first day of complete freedom – if we don’t count labor camps, prison or sharecropping. It was the day the last plantation in Texas was physically emancipated, though some chose to stay mentally enslaved, then and to this day. Regardless of why they didn’t know, the fact that the last slaves in America embraced their freedom on June 19, 1865 is monumental and worthy of celebration.
Last year’s cacaphony of racial unrest threw Juneteenth in our faces with a “How ya like me now!” spirit that we haven’t experienced in decades, if ever. People who never once even considered Juneteenth were now swaddled in the Red, Black and Green. Companies that sat silent through ages of racial turmoil were now raising the roof for Juneteenth and everything else Black. I wanted to join in the movement, but i was enthralled in my own battle for liberation at the time. But it was exciting to watch! It was also worthy of many deeply felt eyerolls as the most passive and misdirected platitudes were set like offerings at Our collective feet.
But finally, we were heard. Finally we were recognized. Hallelujah! Has anything actually changed though? Not really. On the surface it looks like change has arrived, but pardon my cynicism… We’ll see. But at least now i know. Now i understand. Now i celebrate as well. Now i will pass on this day of celebration to my children.
In the meantime, I’m jumping on the bandwagon by commemorating Our day of freedom with my Juneteenth Party Packs! If Walmart can sell red, white and blue cakes, I can sell Red, Black and Green ones! Available in both Red and Pink, my Sipps and Nibbles will be the highlight of your backyard celebration! Get your orders in today so you don’t miss out!