It’s the second anniversary of Juneteenth as a national observance and today, freedom is still on many Americans’ minds.
It’s the second time the United States will mark the occasion of African Americans enslaved two years passed the due date of Abraham Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation.” Freedom always takes time, and we are not free until everyone gets the message. Then, we can celebrate.
It was June 19, 1865, when they heard the news in Galveston, Texas.
Hold off on the celebration of the sixteenth president. He didn’t mean it. Lincoln didn’t intend to win our hearts. He just wanted to win the war. He wrote in a letter to Horace Greeley,
“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.”
Lincoln was clear on what he was fighting for, and African Americans know what the celebration is all about— freedom. It is freedom despite not because there is a collective understanding that to live freely is a human right.
Their freedom was given not because Lincoln knew it was wrong to enslave another human being but because it was the right move. It was the right thing to do to win the war. These African Americans who were enslaved were just pawns he could move to further his agenda. He could go either way if it meant saving the union.
Consequently, Juneteenth has been called the United States’ “Second Independence Day.” Frederick Douglass famously questioned, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Because chained hands and feet unable to move independently and apart from the observation of a “master” or an overseer is not cause for a party.
Unfortunately, freedom to live and move freely is not something to be taken for granted as human beings have an unnatural way of taking it away from others.
And if you have never been enslaved, then I would argue that you don’t really know what it means to be free. You have nothing to compare your freedom to— unless and until it has been taken away from you. But when you do, you know what it calls for.
Freedom calls for an invitation like the one made in Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me,”
won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babyon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
Freedom calls for hugging and crying, for dancing and singing, for celebrating in the streets, for parades and cookouts, for balloons and streamers. It calls for your best attire and your brightest smile. It calls for celebration all day and all night.
It calls for a party. So come on and help me celebrate freedom. Happy Juneteenth!