Juneteenth — also known as Freedom Day — has been a tradition in the United States for more than 150 years. The holiday finds its roots in Texas, where enslaved African-Americans in the city of Galveston were finally informed of their freedom on June 19, 1865, about two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Participation in Juneteenth celebrations grew throughout the years as descendants continued traditions in Texas and, as African-Americans in the South migrated across the country, Juneteenth celebrations began appearing in different cities.
This 2022 is the second year that Juneteenth is being observed as a federal holiday. Last year, President Biden signed legislation designating Juneteenth a “legal public holiday” on June 17, just two days before the holiday.
As an African immigrant in the United States, I’ve come to realize that there is this detachment from the history of slavery. When Africans come to the States, because we are not taught the history of African Americans, it is difficult to fully empathize and relate with that “Black History” that should unite us. This is why as the founder of TANTV, I continue to believe in the purpose behind this platform. I want Africans and the multicultural diaspora that call the United States of America their home, to understand American culture from history to politics, entertainment and more; especially on how it affects/impacts us as a diaspora community. I have called this country home for over fifteen years and it wasn’t until last year when President Biden signed legislation designating Juneteenth a “legal public holiday” on June 17, 2021 that I first truly understood the significance of “Juneteenth” and why it is also a special date for us Africans to celebrate.
Black storytelling is not monolithic and for this reason, we Africans that immigrated to America for education, economic reasons or as refugees that fled for refuge from conflict in our countries, must appreciate the uniqueness of African Americans (Black Americans) whose history in America is rooted in slavery. ~Adedayo Fashanu~
A holiday like Juneteenth encourages us to become more invested in learning more about the place we live in and its history. It is a day where we must unpack in and engage with this history instead of acting nonchalant or ignorant about it.
Juneteenth is a holiday of hope. A time of joy to ease the pain, anger and sadness around continued racial injustice in the United States. A time to reflect on how we as a people (African/Black diaspora) are really able to come together and celebrate African American history and heritage.
I did some research to understand the ways by which African Americans typically celebrate this monumental date. I’ve selected five practical ways we can partake in this celebration as African immigrants, first generation or as Black multicultural individuals living in America:
1. Get Educated on Black American History
Plan to spend this Juneteenth reflecting on Black history in the U.S. If anything, the Black Lives Matter movement has shed light on how we can reflect. Given the current events and where the country is now- from the killings of unarmed black people, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery- to how African-Americans, as Black people, are still fighting for equal rights in labor, health care, housing, education and more; this holiday is a time we can take to be educated and aware. There is no excuse to remain ignorant because the fight for racial justice and being uprooted from systemic oppression is our fight – all Blacks in America; immigrants and whatnot!
2. Join a local Parade or event
Now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday, celebrations are bigger and more diverse. According to Kelly E. Navies, an oral historian at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Juneteenth is not just a party, but “a reflection and a meditation on the history and struggle in this country.” In 1872, a group of African American ministers and businessmen in Houston purchased 10 acres of land and created Emancipation Park which was intended to hold the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration.
After dedicating a 5,000-square-foot mural last year, in 2022 Galveston will celebrate the holiday with a banquet, poetry festival, parade and a picnic. Organizers in Atlanta will hold a parade and music festival at Centennial Olympic Park, and similar events are scheduled in Baltimore, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Tulsa, Okla.
Check your local listings for events and parades. Black Joy is a must!
3. Celebrate with Food Especially Juneteenth Red-colored Food Staples
Celebrations would not be complete without Juneteenth food. Normally, there is barbecue, a nod to the custom of smoking a hog, and music is played. To symbolize the plight of Black Americans, red drinks and foods, like watermelon, red beans and rice, and red strawberry soda, red velvet cake are all commonly served.
- In Yoruba and Kongo culture, red symbolizes spiritual power
- Remembrance of African ancestors lured with red cloth by slave trappers, since red cloth was used in spiritual practices
- Symbolism for the blood of enslaved ancestors
- Red drinks call to mind traditional West African drinks made from ruby red hibiscus flowers and kola nut
Now that you know some background on Juneteenth and its food traditions, my hope is that next year’s Juneteenth, we will invite some African and African American chefs to our studios to prepare Juneteenth food using key African spices and ingredients. If interested in working with us on this concept, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Buy Black
Shopping only at black-owned businesses this holiday is definitely one way to celebrate Juneteenth. The nationalization of the holiday has changed how people celebrate Juneteenth, with recent conversations centered on what the commercialization and nationalization of the holiday means for its original meaning and purpose. It is important to not be deceived by merchandise that are branded with the Juneteenth colors but not Black-owned. In the merchandising frenzy, big-box stores like Walmart, Dollar Tree and Party City have ginned up Juneteenth party plates, vinyl tablecloths and napkins. Some of it has caught the wrong sort of attention on social media for its seeming tone-deafness bristled at the obvious pandering to Black consumers.
If you are looking for Black-owned Juneteenth party supplies, We Celebrate Black is one resource. It is a black-owned business founded by Brandy Goodner who first learned about Juneteenth when she was 14. She didn’t begin celebrating the holiday until she was an adult. Seeing an opening in the market for Juneteenth decorations and party favors — she decided to create her own line of Juneteenth party supplies. The brand sells banners, paper cups and plastic cutlery with zigzag decorations in yellow, black and red, for the Pan-African flag, a symbol of Black liberation in the United States.
Wherever you shop during this holiday, prioritize doing your homework to make sure the product is actually Black-owned. Let’s liberate each other economically!
At the end of slavery, many Blacks had been torn from their families, so they had to recreate communities. Juneteenth is a celebration of Black communities coming together. As Africans, we can use this holiday as an opportunity to engage with our African American neighbors or attend a community function. There’s a clear difference with how Black Americans and Africans relate with each other; it’s an unspoken difference but it exists. The fact that 2019 was marked as The year of The Return, it gave an opportunity to many Black Americans to visit the continent (especially Ghana); tracing their roots to which country they are from in Africa. For the first time, many of them got that feeling of being at home! We are the same people. Juneteenth is an opportunity for us Africans to openly acknowledge the plight and struggles that Black Americans have faced in America and for us to celebrate their freedom as also our freedom.
About Author: Adedayo Fashanu is the founder and CEO of TANTV. Follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter & IG.
This article was originally published in 2022 and updated 2023