Growing up Black in Texas, there is no better day than Juneteenth. It’s more than just a holiday, it is our history. Down in the South, it is a part of our culture.
The morning of Juneteenth is always celebrated with the parade. Hundreds of African-Americans line up and down the street and tons of children clap with big smiles of joy. You hear the music of the bands playing along with the Majorettes strolling down the road. You have your Black entrepreneurs, local families and church members all sitting in cars waving to the crowd and throwing candy. The elementary dance teams would also join, including your fellow neighborhood cowboys.
It is the biggest celebration of the year and the day is always filled with love.
I still have the shirt from my first Juneteenth parade. It’s a moment you never forget.
But Juneteenth isn’t just about a parade, it’s about learning and realizing how far we’ve come. I remember talking to my grandma and having the same conversation each year regarding Juneteenth. I always learned something new each year and it has become easier to understand as I’ve gotten older. You see, I’ve never worked on a farm but my grandma was a sharecropper and her grandmother was a slave. Holidays like these show how much the cycle can change within a few generations.
But it’s also important to realize the fight isn’t over yet.
This is because even when we were free we were still working as slaves. It’s important to know that it took two and a half years for the slaves in Texas to know about their freedom and no one can tell us why. The worst part is the term freedom was mostly just expressive at the time. The way I see it is that the 13th amendment didn’t end slavery, it just transformed it. Sharecropping and penal labor became the new form of slavery in America and one of these things still threatens our community.
After slavery, a lot of newly freed slaves continued to work for their ex-masters in the form of sharecropping. This process continued to leave African-Americans in debt and forced them into a cycle that was hard to get out of. Even my family was affected by it. For the newly freed slaves who didn't get stuck in the sharecropping cycle, they still had to worry about going to prison as Black codes criminalized activities such as loitering or congregating after dark. Under the 13th amendment, penal labor became legal and thereby gave free labor to the government, in its own a continuation of the legacy of slave labor.
Black history in America is never easy to process but it’s something we must recognize in order to move forward and continue our fight. There is power in our pain and that power gives us the love and strength to keep going. As we keep fighting for the future and liberation we believe in, I’m sending you the love and strength to keep pushing forward.