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  • Calia Lee

The Power of Juneteenth

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

“Calia, come to the family room real quick! I want you to see this episode of Black-ish. It’s their best one yet.” I put down my phone to answer the summons of my grandmother, which happens to be the very summons that completely changed my perception of Independence.

For those of you who do not know, Black-ish is an informative comedy that follows a middle-class African American family through life. The fourth season premiere, fittingly named “Juneteenth,” rocked my world, because I learned about something so connected to my African American identity that was interestingly never mentioned in the classroom.

On October 5th, 2017, I was educated about the day my ancestors in Galveston, Texas were told about their legal liberation from slavery. This was two years, six months, and 19 days after the decree of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation stated that all states in the confederacy had to immediately liberate their slaves, leaving the boarder states and Texas to practice slavery longer.

After more than two and a half years later, on June 19th, 1865, Texas became the last state to receive the order to liberate their slaves. But here’s the kicker, none of the former slaves were given any tools, reparations, or boosts from the government to leave their slaveholders.

This caused many former slaves to stay on plantations and to sign corrupt annual contracts as sharecroppers, because they lacked formal education, food, money, and housing for their family.

While watching the emotional, yet comical, episode, I realized how out of the loop I felt. Me, an African American woman, who knows no other culture than that of her slave ancestors, with no roots other than being black in America, had no clue about something so closely tied to her ancestry. Meanwhile, everyone else in the room seemed immensely aware about something I was so clueless about. How could I be so out of the loop?

However, that day I learned something vital: it is never too late to learn or change. I didn’t let my embarrassment or hurt get in the way of my learning. I didn’t let the fact that I missed 16 years of celebrating my liberation stop me from doing so. What started with an Instagram post and a “Happy Juneteenth, everyone, ” ended up with me pushing my family to organize a full cookout to celebrate our true Independence Day. 

July 4th, 1776, the day America was born, and the day white people were freed, had nothing to do with my freedom. After realizing that July 4th did not pertain to me and my lovely Black American family, I stopped celebrating it as my Independence Day.

The Fourth of July will never be my Independence Day, because my people were not free, because the country I call home forced my ancestors to labor for another 2 years, 6 months and 19 days after we were supposedly liberated, because we had to face Black Codes and Jim Crow for another 103 years, and because for another 52 years, in 2020, my people are still being killed for the color of their skin, the skin God blessed them with.

I cannot and will not in good conscience support the independence of a country that continues to enslave and suppress my brothers and sisters and I. Juneteenth is the day that reminds me of what my ancestors fought for. I am reminded of how much I love my people and my family. I am reminded of the importance of education and what I can become.

I am reminded that I will never let someone make me feel less than because of the color of my skin. I am reminded to keep pushing and fighting for my people. I am reminded to speak up about these issues, rather than keep my silence. I am proud to know about my Black American culture and will continue the tradition of showing others what a black person can do in America.

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