On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Civil War ended (and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation), Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, where they informed enslaved African Americans that they were finally free. The date, also known as Freedom Day, would be celebrated by Americans for more than a century thereafter. But it wasn’t until last June that President Joe Biden said
June 19 a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery so “all Americans can feel the power of this day, learn from our history, and celebrate progress,” he said. said.
This year, the Brooklyn Museum hosted its second annual Honor Juneteenth celebration inviting New Yorkers to celebrate Black liberation, community and creativity with a full day of activities. Events ranged from poetry readings to a performance by Brown Sugar Bounce to a sound bath, all organized in partnership with the
Cultural vinyl record. Guests were also encouraged to sit down for community portraits with souls in focusthe Brooklyn-based artist collective of Sade Fasanya, Henry Danner, Natiah Jones and Naeem Douglas.
But just as the new holiday brings more formal celebrations across the country, it also urges making more progress toward racial equity and heeding America’s past. Here, 17 participants share their personal reflections on this historic day.
“To me, that means black people feel free to be 100% authentically themselves. Often we don’t feel like we can be ourselves or say what we want to say because we’re in spaces where that’s not welcome or we don’t see people who look like us or who may speak like us. I grew up in Maine and always felt I needed to be calmer. Once I moved to New York and was actually around people who looked like me – body, hair, style, skin color, style, all that stuff – it really helped me not only feel accepted, but also comfortable in my own skin. —
Anastacia, 30 years old
“Tome? [Juneteenth] means almost everything. [
Laughs.] I know these are the holidays that our ancestors—my ancestors—took and fought for. And we’ve finally come to a place where it’s our freedom, even if we’re not even really that. But I am grateful that this day is recognized as a public holiday. It’s been going on for years, and now people are getting involved in it more than ever. I work for the Elections Office and have ensured that all of my staff [at the museum registering early electors] had a [Juneteenth] shirt.” – Royal Rose, “63 wise”
“For me, it’s a way for my children to connect with history and understand not only how we celebrate, but also understand where our people come from. I wanted to bring them here because Juneteenth is a whole new celebration for most people, and to make them realize that even though laws have been passed to set us free, people aren’t always simple. So it’s not just a party. I want them to know our full story and that we’ve come a long way. —
Michael, 56 years old
“Juneteenth means a warm embrace of black culture.” —
Imani, 20 years old
“It’s an acknowledgment of much of the struggle of black people in America over the past 400 years. A signal and a sign to be used as motivation to progress and improve things for the future, for future generations. —
Kennie, 30 years old
“Of course freedom – or the thought of freedom. We have always tried to acquire this sense of what freedom is. But more than freedom, we should seek sovereignty. So I think Juneteenth means a symbol of sovereignty and liberation. —
Craig, 32 years old
“It is a representation of triumph and victory, after much oppression, setbacks and discouragement. There is always sunshine on the other side. —
Kaya, 22 years old
“To me, Juneteenth means freedom of expression. Creativity. —
Dorian, 30 years old
“I’m from Antigua so it took me a while to realize that slavery, racism, all of that was a reality in America until I moved here. To me that means I look like more to the black community than I thought there was more likeness in us, and not just the color of our skin, who we are as people.
Rachida, 29 years old
“I mean, it’s so commercialized [now]. I mean, I don’t even think about how to make an impact at work, in a predominantly white space. I just wanna do my own thing. I just want to be with black people. [
Laughs.] Just being here for the good of black people. The African diaspora is vast, so there is even a spectrum among black people. You have people from Africa, people from the Caribbean, people who have the African-American experience. Juneteenth is truly this true African-American experience – a true celebration of that and all that we’ve overcome. And really, celebrating all that we are. Black is beautiful, that’s what it really means. — Marcus, 28 years old
“It’s a real party for people of color. I think a lot of black America really thinks like crabs in a barrel. And the reverse — when people really come together to do what they’re doing — is super important.
Marshal, 30 years old
“It means a time to see my people being at their highest, most beautiful, just free to be themselves. And community. Everyone goes out, and that’s what I like. —
Anne, 35 years old
“[Juneteenth] means recognizing my ancestors. It means
Perception of freedom. It means preparation for freedom. That’s what it means to me. — Eima, 68 years old (left)
“Juneteenth means coming together. I’m not from New York, I’m from a small town [in North Carolina], and there’s not a lot of black people getting together and showing off their talent and all that stuff, so it’s really a meeting time for me. —
Jayahna, 19 years old
Freedom, which is release. That’s it.” – Friend, 105 [ Laughs.] (left)
“Juneteenth is the celebration of when the last slaves found they were free, and the way that aligns with the summer solstice is symbolic to me. It symbolizes coming out of a dark time and into something something completely new: freshness, freedom, luminosity.” —
Janeva, 41 years old (right)
“When I think of Juneteenth, of course I think of freedom. But I also think of the hard work of my ancestors and the importance of commemorating them beyond the commercialization of the holiday. I think of the sacred. I think of pride. And I think humility. Those are some of the things it means to me, but it means so much more on a deeper level – spiritually, mentally, emotionally. So I’m just grateful to be here to celebrate —
Lydie, 33 years old