Last year, Juneteenth came to Berlin, Germany.
On June 19, about 100 people gathered at the Bethanien, a former hospital in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, which since the 1970s has served as an artists’ center and a platform for presenting contemporary art, to commemorate the emancipation of African American slaves. Given Bethanien’s long history as the center of progressive politics, it was a fitting place to celebrate the liberation of black Americans.
Organized by an African-American woman who lived in Berlin, the celebration of a day consisted of singing hymns, reading poetry, and even performing crawls. Although our bodies were shaking from the cold weather and the rains pouring intermittently throughout the day, our spirits were warm because of the influx of love.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but this was the first Junetenth celebration I attended. I had never participated in this event before moving to Berlin from the United States. Although this obligation is not just mine.
Growing up in Florida, I didn’t learn about Juneteenth in school. Nor did they teach me a story of slavery as complete as I would have liked. Most of what I know about the history of black Americans I have learned outside the school system. Naturally, I was curious and felt the weight of being a black woman in the United States, so I was educated in radical anti-racism with the help and guidance of black librarians in the neighborhood library and my elders. I learned all I could about black slavery, racism, and resistance. I learned about the Haitian revolution and how my ancestors fought against French slavery and tutelage. I met Bayard Rustin, a gay African-American man who worked to assert gay presence in the civil rights movement and shaped Martin Luther King activism. But still, he knew relatively little about Juneteenth and its importance.
Juneteenth, a mix of June 19 and 19, commemorates the abolition of U.S. slavery under President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, announced late by a Union Army general in Galveston, Texas. on June 19, 1865.
Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Liberation Day, Juneteenth has been observed annually for over a century. Many African Americans, especially Texans, have spent time marking this day by organizing rallies, parades, and picnics, reading, reciting poetry, and simply rejoicing in their release. African-American teacher Brittney Cooper recently wrote about her first vacation experiences in an essay entitled Is Juneteenth for Everyone? “Juneteenth, for me, has always been simply a fact of life, something I commemorated before I knew I was doing it,” he wrote. “I remember learning his name in a book, when I was young, and then I realized that the random parade my mom often did on the campus of our local HBCU every summer, always took place around the weekend. of June “.
Texas officially turned Juneteenth into a vacation in 1980 and 46 more states and the District of Columbia have followed suit. But in many states, like my native Florida, Juneteenth didn’t get much attention until recently.
The brutal police assassination of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, on May 25, 2020, sparked widespread protests and a wave of racial counting across the United States. This kept Juneteenth under national focus and increased calls for it to become a federal holiday. Earlier this week, President Joe Biden answered those calls and signed a law that made June 19 a national holiday.
This last year of racial accounting, of course, not only turned out to be Juneteenth gaining widespread attention and becoming a federal holiday. It also led many academics and activists to begin discussing how history is taught and perceived in the US.
People began to vocally demand an end to the whitewashing of American history and the casual celebration of racism in the country. Statues of slaves, segregationists and colonialists have been demolished. Recently, the U.S. Geographic Names Board voted to remove the word “black” from about 20 geographic locations in Texas. These names were not only very inappropriate and offensive to black people, but they also testified to how racism is still cut across the Texan landscape and the United States.
Since the assassination of Floyd and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, there have also been growing calls for the history of black Americans to be seen, discussed, and honored in its entirety. Activists not only demand that the nation at large recognize the legacy of slavery and the psychological, material, and physical damage that systemic racism still influences black Americans, but they also want the country to take responsibility for dispossession. systemic of black Americans since 1619, the year the first African slave arrived in the colony of Virginia.
In fact, if we look at Texas, we see that the history of blacks in the state is by no means limited to slavery. For example, Aleshia Anderson, a human resources worker who was born in Lockhart, Texas, can trace her paternal lineage to St. John’s Colony, a community built by freed slaves in the early 1870s. wealth wealth like Black Wall Street, but many of us are still proud of this area, ”he told me.
Black people have always been an integral part of Texas history. Black slaves not only literally built the state, clearing forests, harvesting crops, and building houses, but they have continued to be a crucial part of social, political, economic, and artistic life after emancipation. Despite the countless obstacles that blacks faced in the US, they built, created, persevered and that should rejoice.
Today we are at a turning point in the United States. Demands for racial equality and justice are growing every day. The road to true racial justice, however, is still fraught with obstacles. And only by looking at and truly understanding history can we build a better future for everyone.
As Annette Gordon-Reed wrote in her book On Juneteenth, “History is about people and events in a particular context and context, and how these things have changed over time in ways that make the past different from our time. , with an understanding that these changes were not inevitable. “
If we look at history soberly, leaving behind the prejudices that systemic racism has engraved on us, we can clearly see the steps we must take to achieve real equality and racial calculation in the United States: reparations, restitution for the oppressed.
Juneteenth alone will not improve racial inequalities in the US. Still, this holiday offers Americans the opportunity to look at history from the perspective of the oppressed (rather than the oppressor), celebrate the successes of black Americans, and recognize the suffering of black Americans.
Very little has been done to repair the damage that slavery and centuries of systemic racism inflicted on black Americans. Even less has been done to exult as blacks thrived against such a brutal system. That is why Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates emancipation, is not only important, but much needed.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.