What Is Juneteenth

My family is from Beaumont, Texas. All my life, we’ve celebrated Juneteenth with family gatherings, cookouts, dominoes and card-playing, music, laughter, and an overall feeling of Black freedom and joy.

In recent years, Juneteenth has risen in prominence, extending beyond Black Texans. Moments ago, President Biden signed a resolution to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Juneteenth is a commemoration of the date that Major General Gordon Granger delivered General Orders Number 3 to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, more than two-and-a-half years after President Lincoln’s issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Order gave instructions to Black folks to “remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.” It was the liberatory spirits of our Ancestors that took this opening to demand full freedom for Black people. Nobody gave it to us. This is the tradition of Juneteenth.

As this celebration of hard-won Black freedom makes its way into the mainstream, let’s be sure that we reckon with the history of American chattel slavery, honor the Black freedom fighters who brought its end, maintain the integrity of Juneteenth as a Black self-determined celebration, and commit ourselves fully to the continued struggle for reparations and freedom.

We continue to grapple with the tensions of simultaneously celebrating steps made towards Black freedom and struggling for its total manifestation. Police, who find their origins in “slave”-catching, continue to train their weapons on the backs of Black people. Just earlier this year, at the exact same time the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin was being read in the murder of George Floyd, police in Columbus, Ohio stole the life of a precious and beautiful Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, after she called the police for help.Upwards of one thousand lives are stolen by police and state-sanctioned violence each year in this country.

Our relief is always short-lived. Our freedoms are short-lived. The freedom to sleep peacefully in our beds at night. The freedom to go for a bike ride. The freedom to eat ice cream on our own couch. The freedom to play video games with our nephews. The freedom to be, freedom to live, freedom to matter.

This weekend, and every Juneteenth, let’s honor our Ancestors by acknowledging that which is good in our lives and pause to revel in it. Let’s actively build spaces of Black freedom and struggle to make freedom real everywhere. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us as we inherit the obligation to continue the work to build a free future for all Black people.

This message is inspired by and includes reflections from Melanye T. Price’s “The Ongoing Significance of Juneteenth.” Melanye is an Endowed Professor of Political Science at Prairie View A&M University and principal investigator for their African American Studies Initiative. The essay is the first installment in a forthcoming political education program entitled the neXus Project. Working in collaboration with Scholars 4 Black Lives. The project will officially launch this August.

After reading Melanye’s piece, please share it so that we can remind everyone of the sacredness and promise of Juneteenth. Then tune in to a 30-minute candid conversation with Melanye and me on Instagram Live on Saturday, June 19 at 9:00am PT on @blklivesmatter.

We know corporations and politicians will attempt to co-opt our message and thwart our demands for reparations and full freedom. Let’s refuse the lure of partial freedom. Let us not “remain quietly in [our] present homes.” Instead, let’s recommit ourselves to the work of building a world of total and complete freedom.

Melina Abdullah, Co-Director, BLM Grassroots