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Celebrating Juneteenth: A Reflection on Freedom and Progress

Every year on June 19th, a profound celebration occurs across the United States. Known as Juneteenth, this day marks a pivotal moment in American history—the end of slavery in the United States. Imagine the scene on June 19, 1865: Major General Gordon Granger arrives in Galveston, Texas, bringing with him the life-altering news that the Civil War has ended and all enslaved people are now free. This announcement came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is not just a date on the calendar; it is a celebration of African American freedom, culture, and progress—a reminder of the ongoing journey toward equality and justice.



The Historical Significance of Juneteenth

The significance of Juneteenth lies in its historical roots, but it's also about the personal experiences of African Americans. The Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, declared all enslaved people in Confederate states free. However, enforcement was slow and inconsistent, especially in Texas, the most remote of the states with enslaved people with a low Union presence.


Reflecting on this, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a renowned historian, says, "Juneteenth is a day of profound importance to African Americans and to the country. It is a reminder of the resilience, strength, and contributions of Black Americans." This day represents the long-overdue recognition of freedom and the beginning of a new chapter for African Americans.


The Modern Celebration of Juneteenth

Today, Juneteenth is celebrated with vibrant events, including parades, festivals, cultural performances, and educational activities. These celebrations are not just about reflection but also about joy, unity, and community building. The holiday has gained broader recognition in the last decade, culminating in its designation as a federal holiday in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.


The Ongoing Struggle for Equality

As we celebrate Juneteenth, it's crucial to remember that the fight for equality is far from over. The day serves as a stark reminder of the systemic racism and inequality that continue to persist. Despite the progress made since 1865, challenges remain.


Consider this: According to a 2020 report by the Economic Policy Institute, the median wealth of Black families in America is only 12.7% of the median wealth of white families. This stark statistic highlights the enduring racial wealth gap, a clear indicator of systemic inequality.


Reflecting on the broader implications, activist and scholar Angela Davis reminds us, "Juneteenth is not just about celebrating the past, but also about continuing the fight for a more just and equitable future." This perspective underscores the importance of using Juneteenth not only as a day of celebration but also as a call to action.


Celebration and Education


Suggested Reading List

To deepen our understanding and appreciation of Juneteenth, here are some essential reads that provide valuable insights into the holiday and its significance:


  • Juneteenth (1999) by Ralph Ellison – A powerful novel exploring the complexities of race, identity, and history.

  • On Juneteenth (2021) by Annette Gordon-Reed – A profound reflection on the significance of Juneteenth and its place in American history.

  • The Warmth of Other Suns (2010) by Isabel Wilkerson – An epic history of the Great Migration and its impact on Black America.

  • The New Jim Crow (2010) by Michelle Alexander – An insightful analysis of mass incarceration and systemic racism in the United States.

  • Between the World and Me (2015) by Ta-Nehisi Coates – A poignant letter from the author to his son, addressing the realities of being Black in America.

  • Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking: A Cookbook (2019) by Toni Tipton-Martin - A celebrated cookbook that explores the rich culinary traditions and history of African American cuisine through over 100 meticulously curated recipes.


Popular Recipe: Juneteenth Red Velvet Cake

One of the cherished traditions of Juneteenth is sharing food that embodies the struggle and triumph of African Americans. Red foods, especially red velvet cake, hold deep symbolic significance in African American culture, particularly during Juneteenth. The red color represents the bloodshed and resilience of enslaved people and their descendants. Red velvet cake, a popular choice, beautifully symbolizes the resilience and vibrancy of the community.


Ingredients:

- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

- 1 teaspoon baking soda

- 1 teaspoon salt

- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

- 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

- 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

- 2 large eggs, room temperature

- 2 tablespoons red food coloring

- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

- 1 teaspoon white vinegar


Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.

3. In a large bowl, gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.

4. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.

5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

6. Remove from oven and cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

7. Frost with cream cheese frosting, and enjoy!


red velvet cake with slice taken out of it

Conclusion

Juneteenth is a day to celebrate freedom, honor African American culture and history, and reflect on the ongoing fight for equality and justice. As we commemorate this important day, let us remember the resilience and strength of those who fought for freedom and continue to strive for a more just and equitable society.


By celebrating and educating ourselves about Juneteenth, we honor the past and contribute to a future where freedom and equality are truly realized for all.

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