Juneteenth: Celebrating 157 years of freedom

Brandon Smith, Contributing Writer

June 19, Juneteenth, is a celebratory day that signifies the anniversary of Black freedom from slavery under the Emancipation Proclamation passed in 1863.  

This Juneteenth will be the 157th anniversary of the very last slaves being freed in Galveston, Texas, by federal troops. It is the oldest African American holiday and is celebrated annually nationwide by as many as 46.7 million people, according to CNN and a Census Bureau estimate.  

To every Black person, this holiday means something different. To Fantasia Kates, a sophomore majoring in criminology and criminal justice, Juneteenth is about building community.  

“Together as a people who got through a lot and together have overcome, it is a holiday that offers opportunity to become more involved by meeting new people and different organizations that teach and help,” Kates said.  

The Tuscaloosa NAACP hosts several events in the spirit of celebration but also in the interest of “advocating for social justice and equality.”  

The holiday offers a chance for Black people to create community. The Tuscaloosa NAACP’s goal is to create and strengthen ties to “promote solidarity in the ongoing pursuit of equality and social change.” 

Despite the upcoming celebration of Juneteenth, newly proposed legislation among some states threatens the holiday’s ideals by trying to ban books that teach, honor and celebrate Black history. 

A number of states have introduced or signed legislation into law that bans certain books.  

Eunice Esomonu, a writer for Northeastern Global News, reported that Alabama has signed two bills on the grounds that the material might place fault or blame cause “to feel guilt or anguish to persons solely because of their race or sex.” In total, 16 states have proposed legislation that would enact statewide censorship, and 15 states have signed censorship legislation into law or have permitted similar statewide action.  

According to Northeastern Global News, this legislation disproportionally bans certain books and curriculum with topics that address black liberation, oppression and history 

Vincent Willis, a New College assistant professor of gender and race studies, said that Juneteenth should be a recommitment to justice and fairness.   

Like so many other holidays that recognize or affirm marginalized people, [it has] been commercialized without a full appreciation for those who fought to reform America into the country it is today,” Willis said.   

He calls the celebration of Juneteenth while also banning Black books a “contradiction in terms.” 

“It cannot be said that there is an interest in people being free and at the same time ban books that are about freedom and justice,” Willis said. “They cannot sit in conversation with one another.”  

He also emphasized the importance of Juneteenth remaining a modern-day holiday.  

“We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who are able to envision a better world rather than accept it as it is,” Willis said. “If you are looking for inspiration, I will never tell anybody not to look at those fighting for freedom, they are the most inspirational and aspirational people you can find in history.” 

 In addition to some states wanting to ban certain books, others also pushed to remove diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives from public universities.  

According to USA Today, two dozen bills have been introduced in 15 states, including Florida, Texas, Missouri and Iowa. Many of these bills propose limiting or denying public colleges and universities from allotting funds to diversity, equity and inclusion programs.  

Kiara Summerville, the director of student academic engagement and advocacy at the University’s Capstone Center for Student Success, spoke about the purpose of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.  

“The purpose of the initiative is to educate, advocate and help those in need of community to build one,” Summerville said. “The intention is never malicious. It is for people to feel a sense of belongingness.”  

Her office primarily aids Black and brown students at the University through programs like BRIDGE, a community of undergraduate men of color designed to empower them to succeed, and the Lucy’s Legacy program, a living-learning community for women of color interested in exploring the significance and experiences of women of color at the University.  

For them Juneteenth represents a framework that allows students to understand history and feel recognized.  

“Students begin to think about what it means to be Black at UA and also being Black in America,” Summerville said.  

A common theme behind Juneteenth is that it is a holiday that encourages and celebrates community and a reminder that despite differences, every person deserves to be recognized as human. 

In celebration of Juneteenth Tuscaloosa NAACP is hosting several events that feature not only cultural festivities but also discussions and calls to action addressing systemic racism, discrimination and inequality.  

The Intercultural Diversity Center, located in the Student Center, is also hosting events on campus. More information can be found on its website.