Celebrating Juneteenth as We Continue to Fight for Equality

Image Credit: Juneteenth Flag by Ben Haith

June 13, 2021—Juneteenth 2021 is turning into one of the biggest national celebrations ever, with growing numbers of states, cities, and corporations recognizing it as a holiday. I am pleased to see that the arts are at the heart of many of the celebrations, including in Galveston, Texas, the birthplace of Juneteenth.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that an estimated quarter-of-a-million enslaved people in Texas learned that slavery had actually been abolished more than two years before. However, Southern slaveholders had refused to obey President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation until their defeat in the American Civil War, which ended in April of 1865.

The belated announcement, known as General Order No. 3, was made by Union Army general Gordon Granger in Galveston, which will mark Juneteenth 2021 with the unveiling of a mural depicting that history.

Juneteenth has taken on even greater significance as the result of the 2020 movements for racial and social justice ignited by the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd. Some 47 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth and there are efforts underway to make it a federal holiday.

In many ways, I believe Juneteenth represents our nation’s true independence day—the day when all members of the nation were finally declared free in the wake of the American Civil War. However, we all know the battle for equality continues today. That’s why, this week, I am writing to urge all the readers of Arts & Culture Connection to celebrate Juneteenth, as a way to acknowledge our nation’s collective history.

It’s also an opportunity for us to utilize the arts as our chosen means to advance racial equality and social justice in both the present and the future. It is through music, dance, theater, as well as the visual arts, that we can share its significance, as well educate others.

Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access are important tools for this endeavor. However, for those actions to be meaningful and effective, I believe we all need to delve into the history in order to understand why they are still necessary.

The following is a list of things you can do to expand your awareness and celebrate Juneteenth, as well as a list of some virtual and in-person events that you can check out:

Visit an African-American historical site or museum.

Watch documentaries about the history of African-Americans or the African-American cultural experience.

Read the book, On Juneteenth, by the Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Annette Gordon Reed, who grew up in East Texas, and unpacks the history of the holiday. One key point she makes: Juneteenth celebrates a people’s enduring spirit rather than General Granger’s decree.

Gather with family and friends and celebrate with traditional foods, and don’t forget us vegans!

The Newark Museum of Art is hosting a free, virtual Community Day-Juneteenth celebration from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET). It will feature a family art-making project; a dialogue about George Floyd’s legacy; a Soul Steps Masterclass; a virtual walking tour of New Jersey’s slavery-related history, and a panel discussion about the true meaning of Juneteenth. Pre-registration for each event is requested at this link.

The Healing of Nations Foundation, in association with Carnegie Hall, virtually presents “All-American Freedom Day: Only Together Are We Free” at 7:30 p.m. (ET) You can watch this free program online on Carnegie Hall’s Facebook page or YouTube channel.

In the Chicago area, Juneteenth celebrations include a family festival, parade, as well as a jazz concert. Details can be found at this link.

In Los Angeles, Leimert Park will be the site of art, music and dialogue from noon to 7 p.m. You can find more information here.

And in Atlanta, Centennial Park will be the location of a parade and music festival. Check out the details at this link.

In a push to get the African American community to enjoy the art of the natural world, the Oakland, California-based organization, Outdoor Afro, is urging us to spend 2.5 hours in nature on Juneteenth to reflect about what freedom means to us.

And join NJPAC’s PSEG True Diversity Film Series on June 21, 2021, as it marks Juneteenth with a virtual panel discussion about reparations and economic justice. The audience is encouraged to watch in advance the film, Banished, which focuses on how Black families were forced out of towns across the south following Reconstruction. Register here to receive the Zoom link for the panel discussion, which begins at 7 p.m. (ET)

I chose the Juneteenth flag to illustrate this post because it symbolizes a new beginning for African-Americans. First created by Ben Haith, the red, white and blue colors represent the American flag, a reminder that slaves and their descendants were and are Americans.

As always, I want to know what you think. What does freedom, equity and/or inclusion mean to you? Please share your thoughts below.

Happy Juneteenth!

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