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Juneteenth: Celebrating the Dawn of Freedom

Juneteenth isn't just a historical marker denoting the emancipation of the last group of enslaved Africans in the United States; it signifies the commencement of a genuine journey towards freedom. This day encapsulates not just an end to an era of brutal injustice but celebrates the persistent courage, ingenuity, and indomitable spirit of African-Americans throughout history. Juneteenth is a tribute to the ongoing struggle for real liberty and the pursuit of the American Dream by African-Americans.

Understanding Juneteenth

On June 19th, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended, and that the enslaved were now free—this was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Thus, Juneteenth marks a critical moment in American history, symbolizing true emancipation for all enslaved people in the U.S.

However, the essence of Juneteenth reaches beyond the cessation of slavery. It commemorates the enduring resolve of African-Americans to forge a life of freedom amidst formidable challenges. It is a day to honor not only historical liberation but also the cultural, social, and political achievements of the African-American community.

The Legacy of Bravery and Ingenuity

African-American men and women in nice clothes celebration Emancipation Day.  They are standing and posing for the picture
Emancipation Day celebration, June 19, 1900 held in "East Woods" on East 24th Street in Austin. Credit: Austin History Center.

Building Communities and Acquiring Land

After the abolition of slavery, African-Americans undertook extraordinary efforts to integrate into a society that had long denied them basic human rights. From 1865 to 1910, despite significant obstacles, African-American individuals and families worked tirelessly to purchase approximately 20 million acres of farmable land. This monumental achievement was realized in the absence of the promised reparations, specifically the unfulfilled Special Field Order No. 15, which had proposed to distribute land to the freed individuals.

Establishment of Black Towns

Facing systemic exclusion and segregation, African-Americans founded their own towns and communities, which stood as beacons of self-sufficiency and racial pride. Towns like Nicodemus, Kansas; Mound Bayou, Mississippi; and Eatonville, Florida, became symbols of black independence and economic autonomy. These communities were not just settlements but centers of black cultural renewal and political activism.

an old school house, the Penn School, the first school built to educate Black Children in the US
The Penn School, Built in 1862

Strides in Education and Entrepreneurship

In the wake of emancipation, there was a surge in African-American education and entrepreneurship. Understanding the transformative power of education, freed Africans and their descendants took significant steps to educate themselves and their children. The establishment of public schools in Black communities by Black people, especially in cities where local governments refused to use Black tax dollars toward building schools, highlighted an extraordinary commitment. This led many in the African-American community to raise their own funds to build schools, effectively being double-taxed yet persevering to lay down educational foundations for future generations.

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) also emerged as crucial platforms for nurturing future leaders and innovators. In business, African-Americans created their own economic opportunities, paving the way for future generations of Black entrepreneurs, often in the face of exclusion from traditional markets.

Political Representation and Leadership

During the Reconstruction era, African-Americans began to play significant roles in political life, especially in the Southern states, where they were elected to local, state, and federal offices. Despite the brief and often contested nature of this engagement, it demonstrated the deep commitment of African-Americans to influence governance and public policy. Leaders like Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce in the Senate, and Robert Smalls and John Mercer Langston in the House of Representatives, were instrumental in advocating for civil rights and justice.

The Power of Resilience and Unity

A group of African-American men and women in 1880 dressed in nice clothes.  They are posing for a picture on Black owned land, celebrating Juneteenth.
Juneteenth 1880

Juneteenth is a time to reflect on past struggles and triumphs and to honor the ongoing resilience of the African-American community. It embodies the continued efforts to reunite families that had been separated by the harsh realities of enslavement and segregation, and the relentless pursuit of educational excellence and entrepreneurship.

The Importance of Family

Reuniting families that had been torn apart was a top priority for many freed Africans, embodying the deep-seated values of kinship and communal support. The reconstitution of these families became a symbol of resistance and recovery in the post-emancipation era.

Juneteenth Today: A Call to Action

Today, Juneteenth is a powerful reminder of the journey still ahead in the quest for equality and justice. It is a day to renew the commitment to freedom and to inspire a new generation to uphold the ideals of equity and community empowerment. The 8th Annual SC Juneteenth Freedom Fest, taking place on June 15, 2024 in Columbia, SC, encapsulates this spirit—celebrating the progress made while shining a light on those who continue to drive our community towards a brighter, more inclusive future. To actively participate in the celebration of our shared history and future, consider joining the 8th Annual SC Juneteenth Freedom Fest as a vendor, performer, donor, and/or sponsor, and be a part of a community driving towards a brighter, more inclusive future.

Conclusion: A Beacon of Freedom

3 Black women dancing while performing at the SC Juneteenth Freedom Fest
SC Juneteenth Freedom Fest, Columbia, SC

As we celebrate Juneteenth, we do so not just in memory of a historical event, but in recognition of the profound implications it holds for our present and our future. It is a day to remember the sacrifices, to celebrate the achievements, and to strengthen our resolve to push forward. Juneteenth is a celebration of Black freedom, a testament to human resilience, and a beacon of hope for a society that truly reflects the dignity and worth of every individual.

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There are sooo many ways that we as a people need to focus our attention and our intentions towards what is invaluable for our community which is always inclusive of our families.

  1. Economics: What are we missing that give us economic support for our families and communities? We must build what is missing to gain economic support through businesses that reflects our cultural interest.

  2. Education: Our education for our children should be to reflect on our Values, Interest and Principles in economics as well as to support Our families foundation of collective work and responsibility.

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