Red velvet beet cake, hibiscus lemonade, strawberry cornbread cobbler. These culinary delights are associated with Juneteenth due to their auspicious vibrancy.
Also referred to as Freedom Day, Juneteenth has been a holiday celebrated by many Black Americans on June 19th to commemorate the emancipation of all enslaved people in the United States. The holiday was first celebrated in Texas, where on that date in 1865, after the Civil War ended, slaves were declared free.
Many forget that, although we celebrate July 4th as our American Independence Day, many black people remained enslaved long after 1776. It wasn’t until 90 years later, when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in January of 1863, that slavery was ended by law – and another two years for that law to be communicated to (with purposeful enforcement) in the Confederate states further south.
There are numerous ways to pay homage to this remarkable event in American history. My own ritual induction has seen a series of fits and starts. After conducting historical research and a number of nerdy focus group dialogues among obliging friends, I decided upon an event that invokes the traditional Texan one. It will feature a modest gathering and a tasting of wondrous red fare! We shall dazzle our loved ones with a flight of my wife’s homemade summer berry wines. We will muddle our way through a reading of the emancipation proclamation. With chagrin, we will lament Astoria’s rather memorable tango with the KKK in the 1920s and marvel over what it must have been like to see the cross burning on Coxcomb hill. We will marinate over what a historical ‘civil rights walking tour’ of our city might look like in anticipation of future Juneteenth gatherings.
But all of these intellectual exchanges must be paired with a purposeful offering too – one of action, one of service.
In honor of Juneteenth, I donate my time to an agency that shares my values. United Way of Clatsop County is my chosen beneficiary – it’s where I concentrate my local attention to help understand and correct inequities that lead to racial injustice, oppression and violence against people of color in my community.
Locally, nationally and world-wide United Ways are taking steps to forge more equitable communities. We affirm that power lies within individuals. Individuals must act in order for structures to change, and once structures change, culture may begin to recognize every human for exactly that: their humanity.
Wondering how to learn more about Juneteenth? Democracy advocacy group NextGen America has an excellent short video, “History of Juneteenth,” available free online that can start you on your journey and bring modern relevance to your engagement with equity. Another brief video, Vox’s “Why all Americans Should Celebrate Juneteenth” is similarly edifying.
Gov. Kat Brown signed a bill into law this month making Juneteenth a state holiday.
This year, armed with both curiosity and humility, join me in founding your own Juneteenth ritual. For buried in these rituals, these offerings is a scarlet red recipe for change.
–Jen Munson, United Way of Clatsop County board member, Disability Rights advocate and Social Worker
If you would like to thank Congress for recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday and encourage further action, click here.