Juneteenth Is Now a National Holiday, But There’s Still More Work to Do

Music, food, dancing, parades, and speeches are standard at Juneteenth celebrations, but the constraints of the pandemic have seen many major Juneteenth events go virtual. There are virtual cookouts, virtual book groups, Juneteenth-themed face masks, and a full weekend of virtual festivals.

Mariah Williams, a 21-year-old living in Southern California, didn’t grow up celebrating Juneteenth, but her family acknowledged the holiday, and she never felt connected to Fourth of July. “My dad has always said, ‘Independence Day for whom exactly? Because you and me would have still been in chains in the 1700s,’” she says. “I definitely want to see more Black Americans embracing Juneteenth as our true independence day, and I want to see all American citizens accept Juneteenth as a part of this country’s history.”

“We can celebrate everything that we love about America without missing the opportunity to point out that it’s bittersweet,” says Garrett-Scott. “Juneteenth commemorates the waiting and the longing of those enslaved people in Texas, which resonates with today—there is a way to celebrate the greatness of this country and not neglect to highlight how far we still have to go.”

Since the ’70s, Garrett-Scott says, Juneteenth celebrations have spread outside of the South to the rest of the U.S., and even internationally, through art and music festivals and parades. “They were never exclusively Black—they were always really inclusive, and wanted people from all ethnicities and races to come and celebrate this moment and also the wonderfulness of Black culture.”

Why Juneteenth? 

Kathryn Scott Osler

Juneteenth isn’t the only historic day that has ever commemorated the end of slavery—there’s Watch Night and Emancipation Proclamation Day—but it’s one that has gained momentum. “Juneteenth really highlights the perspective of the folks who got the news—the folks who were the last to know,” Ball says. The African Americans of Galveston were not the only group of enslaved people who waited even longer than they should have had to for freedom, but their predicament captures the painful poignancy of going from enslavement to liberation. “Celebrating Juneteenth privileges that perspective and it captures the joy,” Ball says. “And it becomes a community celebration. It becomes something that people can put together with friends, family, and community, as opposed to a message that’s delivered from on high, and that’s what a good celebration is ultimately.”

On June 19, we’ll remember those people in Galveston, hearing the sound of Union horses arriving, waiting for true, complete, freedom. Over 150 years have passed, and Black Americans are still waiting for the true freedom that comes from being safe from police brutality and systemic racism.

As the novelist Ralph Ellison wrote in his posthumous novel, “There’ve been a heap of Juneteenths gone by and there’ll be a heap more before we’re free.”

Echoing him, Dillard, the 17-year-old organizer from New Jersey, says, “I’ve grown up in a generation that has seen America’s first Black president, but I’ve also grown up in a generation that has seen people who look like our brothers and our best friends get gunned down in the street.” In other words, the work is far from finished.

“We want to not only celebrate the victories and the progress that we’ve been making in our Black Lives Matter movement, but also to just come together and recognize the importance that this particular moment in history has for every group of people.”

Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.

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