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Juneteenth – Here Yesterday, Gone Today, but What Did It Mean?

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Juneteenth; that is, June 19th, has been a nationally-recognized holiday since 2021, yet it seems unclear to some individuals in our communities why Juneteenth is honored and celebrated.

Here is a quick factual note about the holiday, Juneteenth according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) website: “The origins of Juneteenth date to June 1865. [T]he Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and the Confederate army surrendered to the Union army in April 1865, enslaved people in Texas[…]could not exercise their freedom until June 19, 1865.”

“By celebrating Juneteenth, we foster connections, healing, and revitalization. And we pay tribute to the ongoing fight for social justice and racial equity,” NMAAHC’s website also says.

On Juneteenth this year (2023) Minority Reporter spoke with a few people about the holiday’s meaning, each of whom asked to be anonymous.

Here is what we discovered:

“I don’t know enough about it,” said a white woman shopping at a popular retail store in Montgomery, Alabama. She declined further comment.

“Anything that uplifts our people, I agree with,” stated a young black man working as a ‘car service for hire’ driver here in Rochester. “Sometimes, though, I think it is just a distraction from on-going racial tension including recent violence against Asian people in the U.S.”

Back in Montgomery, another white woman said, “It’s a day off,” and nothing more. Her shopping partner, a white man, expressed disappointment, “I didn’t get the day off; it started raining and I get [sic] sent home.”

A one and one-half year immigrant to the United States from a country north of Afghanistan said he heard that Juneteenth had “something to do with slavery in America.” Prior to his arrival in the United States, this young man (also a car service for hire driver in Rochester) totally did not know about the fact that America’s history included enslavement of black people. “I found out about [slavery in America] from my cousin– he’s 11 years old and has lived all of his life here [in the U.S.].”

A young black woman working as a cashier at a major U.S. food and retail store in Alabama thought Juneteenth had something to do with Pride Month. “At one of our stores, they had the LGBT rainbow colored flags, and at this store there is nothing,” she stated.

Another person mentioned, “I dated a girl once. Upon being told why Juneteenth is actually celebrated, she questioned the situation, “Oh, that’s a holiday?”

Lastly, I spoke with a young black man working as a cashier at a local grocery store chain. This brief chat was very pleasant. The cashier looked at me (adorned in a black and white African style dress), smiled broadly, and said, “Happy Juneteenth.”


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