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If You Didn’t Know About Juneteenth Until Now, It’s Not Entirely Your Fault

A Note from DoSomething’s Director of PR & Communications Macy Harrell

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Up until 2020, I could count on one hand how many Juneteenth BBQs I’d been invited to in my lifetime. Fast forward to 2021, Juneteenth is a nationally recognized holiday in the United States!

I was introduced to Juneteenth as a High school Sophomore by a classmate named Rebekah. She was raised by a large family rich in Black culture. They put a huge emphasis on community engagement which I always admired about them. At one of her family dinners, I learned that Juneteenth was MY Independence Day in this country. As you might imagine, I felt utterly confused as to why something so significant wasn’t a bigger deal. I felt a degree of shame for not knowing sooner.

Countless people of color were not made aware of the Tulsa Massacres on Black Wall Street, Juneteenth, Rosewood, Seneca Village, and many more pivotal moments in Black history until the public height of the Black Lives Matter movement following George Floyd’s murder in Spring 2020. Some still don’t know what any of these historical events are.

If you explore our nation’s history a little further, you’ll find that their not knowing isn’t entirely their fault. This widespread notion of “not knowing” is the direct result of the successful erasure of Black history from our nation’s record. The fact of the matter is, we were not supposed to know.

You don’t help by making anyone feel foolish for not knowing."

Some Black folks still don’t know how to play spades and no one talks about that either. If you aren’t familiar, spades is a competitive card game that is hugely coveted within Black American culture. It brings out a lot of energy at family functions and learning to play is almost considered a rite of passage.

In an effort to educate others, here is a little crash course for those who are learning about Juneteenth for the first time.

Long story short, the U.S. has two Independence Days and Juneteenth is one of them.

Blacks were considered free people according to the January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, yet many remained enslaved in many southern states like Texas. In the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were supposed to be elevated to employees and the equality of their personal rights became “a thing.” This sounded good in theory.

Thousands of Blacks had no idea they were “free” up until June 19th, 1865, two years later, when Union Army General Gordon Granger alongside union soldiers issued a federal order to free ALL slaves. This day would mark the beginning of a celebration of Black freedom here in the United States.

But, it wasn’t exactly happily ever after. Black “freedom” was met with violent rage and new forms of oppression from many white folks who were not keen on suddenly being equal to the humans they previously owned. To them, this was an insult.

In fact, many white people were so enraged that they started what’s known as Jim Crow laws to have the legal grounds that would allow them to isolate and make Black people inferior to whites. An example of this is that a white person was not allowed to shake hands with a Black person. Or when a Black person was expected to address any white person by “Miss” & “Mister” so that equality would never be implied. Anyone who chose to defy laws under Jim Crow would be arrested, receive jail sentences, or even be killed. These laws didn’t official end end until the mid-1960s when my father was born—(Not my grandfather but my father).

Instead of condemning some people for not knowing what Juneteenth is, let’s rejoice that more people are joining us in celebration. Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the resilience of the Black community. African-American history is a critical part of American history. Since becoming a federally recognized holiday in 2021, Juneteenth is getting the widespread respect and recognition it deserves. All these changes, big or small, are part of a larger picture and process of collective liberation.

Better late than never.

Macy Harrell is the Director of PR and Communications at DoSomething.org. She is a PR and branding maven who uses her expertise to fuel the DoSomething mission. She is passionate about addressing social inequities and championing diversity. Macy is a New York native who loves travel, dancing, music and trying new foods.

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