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Honoring Juneteenth

Honoring Juneteenth

New York– Americans in the United States annually recognize July 4th, 1776 as the nation’s  Independence Day. It specifically commemorates the Declaration of Independence. The words in the declaration are intentionally taught in schools, and celebrated as a beautiful, captivating and inspiring promise to the American people, of what to expect from their country; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” But in 1776,  life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not attainable for millions of souls that spent a lifetime toiling for their country. 

Dr. Ron Stewart, the founder of African-American Male Empowering Network (AAMEN); a support group for African American males attending Buffalo State, offered his thoughts on the original Declaration of Independence that excluded black Americans. According to Dr. Stewart, former slave and orator Frederick Douglass’s seminal “What To The Slave Is The Fourth of July,” best describes the cruel irony of the day for many black Americans. Douglass’s address declared that the celebration of American values, such as liberty, citizenship, and freedom, were a blow to enslaved people who were at the time, subject to exploitation and torture in the United States. What to the Slave is the 4th of July?

On Sunday, June 19th the Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863, went into full effect when the last enslaved people in the South were freed by the Union army. The day not only commemorates the end of slavery but the continued battle for black rights in the United States. To many people, June 19th is their Independence Day. But which holiday should be prioritized? Dr. Stewart went on to share that now, after so much sacrifice African Americans should feel free to celebrate June 19th and July 4th. 

“Why shouldn’t we celebrate what our ancestors, essentially, built?” said Dr. Stewart. “Not to do so, in my opinion, is an affront to our ancestors. We have served and died in every war this country has fought. We have been part and parcel of the ingenuities and inventions that have made this country one of the best, if not the best, country in the world.”

Juneteenth
Juneteenth

Rebuilding Stage

June 19th not only marks the end of slavery but is the start of a golden period for black Americans called the Reconstruction Era. During this era, former slaves immediately began to find lost family members, build schools, run for political office and more. June 19th was the match that lit the flame of progress for black Americans. 

MonaLesa D. Brackett, an African American New York native and Morgan State University alum, stated that Juneneeth has not always been a holiday that she celebrated, but always acknowledged. 

“I believe that June 19th was not celebrated widely because many were simply unaware,” said Brackett. “African-American/Black history is not taught properly in the American school system. I am grateful that we are in a time of more self-education and direct research among American Africans.”

Dr. Stewart is also the Chair and professor of sociology at SUNY Buffalo State College. Dr. Stewart has dedicated a large portion of his career and education to research focused on the social-economic conditions confronting African-Americans in U.S. society. Dr. Stewart’s thoughts were parallel to Brackett’s in terms of the lack of exposure and awareness of African American historical events. 

“Sociologically, African Americans have been culturally conditioned to, sadly, see themselves as the dominant community sees them,” said Dr. Stewart. “That being said, it is conceivable they don’t understand the importance of defining their own reality. A reality that embraces everything about their history in this racially oppressive society.”

Redefining the reality of an oppressed mind can prove difficult, particularly when the images, customs and ideas you are confronted with regularly exalt one culture, and diminish or ignore another.

“We have consistently been underestimated, undervalued, and marginalized,” continued Dr. Stewart. “Many of us have internalized these nefarious proclivities. Thus, we don’t appreciate our own worth. I highly recommend that we celebrate ourselves by any means necessary!”

Thankfully, the narrative is now beginning to change. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden formally signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Kansas City expressed that while she was grateful for the progress, however, Congress had more steps to take in terms of voting rights and inclusion, in order to prevent regression. Black Americans Laud Juneteenth Many people believe making Juneteenth a federal holiday is just a start to something that should have begun a while ago for the entire nation. 

“All Americans should celebrate Juneteenth because when you celebrate African American history you celebrate American history,” said Dr. Stewart. “In other words, black history is American history, period.”

Thumbnail Credits: Adelola Tinubu

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