Juneteenth. It’s now a federal holiday and goes by many names: Juneteenth, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Liberation Day, Freedom Day. Its government name is Juneteenth National Independence Day though some Republican lawmakers disagreed with the name, believing it created more division. Still, most of the fourteen Republican members of the House of Representatives who voted against the bill (S. 475) gave their staff the day off on Friday. Open or closed for government business, Juneteenth has an act, signed into law by President Joseph Biden on June 17, 2021.
But Juneteenth is yet another reminder that many Americans are still divided on American history and prefer their version of it. Still, this denial by European Americans, also known as “white denial,” is a part of the holiday’s history. Juneteenth is the celebration of the national independence of African Americans from enslavement in the United States, which occurred on June 1, 1863. However, African Americans in Galveston, Texas learned about their freedom through Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation nearly two and half years later on June 19th, 1865.
The Civil War, which was over slavery despite “white denial,” was over but European Americans were literally fighting to keep the news from reaching the state. Union soldiers were sent to share the proclamation and as they advanced, so did the law. Union General Gordon Granger is most well- known for delivering the news, known as General Order 3. African Americans in Galveston were free… at last! But Delaware and Kentucky were still Confederate slave states until December of 1865. Sound familiar? Does this remind you of anything?
How about desegregation in the late 1950s when U.S. Army troops were sent to the Jim Crow South to enforce the ruling of Brown versus Board of Education Topeka, the landmark 1954 decision that ruled racialized segregation unconstitutional. It was then president Dwight D. Eisenhower versus Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus. While the Supreme Court had not given a deadline for when integration was to occur, a later ruling in 1955 told the states that it should occur “with all deliberate speed.” Arkansas was integrating but when nine African American students were set to attend Little Rock’s then “all white” Central High School, the governor ordered the states National Guard to deny them entry.
History repeats, in part because it is denied. I was reminded of this fact during my visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma on the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre earlier this month. I was covering the events of remembrance and rededication to the empowerment of this African American community for Good Faith Media in my role as a contributing correspondent. Despite hundreds of deaths, the forced relocation of thousands of residents and the destruction of thirty- five city blocks known as “Black Wall Street,” most Americans had never heard of it. Perhaps, this is the case because the violence was sanctioned by city officials, who deputized its European American citizens and sent them into Greenwood where they looted and burned down this community. Residents still whisper about it.
It all started over an accusation that a European American woman, Sarah Page, had been assaulted by an African American man, Dick Rowland, in an elevator at the Drexel Building. This is not a new accusation but apart of the large body of evidence of the false accusation and hyper-sexualization of African and African American bodies, the unfounded fear of these cross- cultural relationships and the social protection of the so- called purity of European American women as an excuse to commit acts of violence against African Americans. Rowland was arrested and hundreds of the city’s European American residents gathered at the jail to lynch him. Grossly outnumbered, about seventy- five African American former veterans came to protect him. A shot was fired and the rest is… history. Residents only recently began to speak of it and a hundred years later, the city just issued an apology.
But that’s it. Talk of reparations, Mayor Bynum said, “would divide the city.” Not surprisingly, no one has been brought to justice for any of the crimes committed over the course of eighteen hours on May 31st through June 1st, 1921. Once mislabeled a “race riot,” this mob violence at the hands of European Americans not only occurred in Tulsa but in Rosewood, Springfield, Slocum, Atlanta and many other American cities. Still, Americans would choose to deny it with talk of America’s “good ol’ days,” describing incidents like these as a “dark chapter” and not the story of America’s founding.
Deny, wash our hands and repeat. This will continue to be the case, evident in the recent debate over CRT, critical race theory, the practice of examining how societal structures, like structural racism, create and exacerbate social problems. Laws are being passed to keep it out of classrooms though students wouldn’t hear of it until college or perhaps graduate school. The fears of “white guilt” over its inclusion are unfounded but it doesn’t stop the attempt to destroy its credibility.
No matter the reason for talking about the sociopolitical construct of race, European Americans have a long history of denying the need for the conversation, which is why many didn’t know the history of Juneteenth. Since June 19th, 1866, Juneteenth has been marked by the celebration of African American culture with parades, festivals, pilgrimages to Galveston, Texas and prayer services held at churches. It will no doubt be capitalized on today and in years to come by businesses. Because if there is one thing America knows how to do, it is make money off the suffering of other people. Persons can attempt to deny that too but the receipts from today’s purchases won’t lie.