A combination of “June” and “nineteenth,” Juneteenth marks the day that enslaved Africans in Texas were finally told they were free—two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
While much has changed for Black Americans in the United States, including the recent passing of a bill from Congress recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday, frustration and racism are still prevalent. In the wake of George Floyd and Breyonna Taylor’s deaths in 2020, the month of June, and June 19th in particular, serve as an opportunity to educate ourselves on the legacy of slavery and its impact on Black Americans—and within the Temple University community.
This year, we asked members of the Fox community to share, in their own words, their experiences with Juneteenth and how their relationship to the holiday has shifted over the years.
Brandon Evans, technology and administrative specialist, Fox School of Business
Did you know slavery ended just over 150 years ago? My grandfather’s father was born into slavery. This means that I am only four generations removed from slavery. As a result, Juneteenth takes on a more crystallized form in my mind when it comes to observing it as a day, and especially as a holiday.
Personally, commemorating and observing Juneteenth is a point of frustration. It is the frustration of looking behind at the road traveled, to the road ahead, realizing the scope of one’s existence and progress, and how much of the road is left. However, before delving deeper into my own thoughts on this subject matter, I think it is important to share how I had to learn about these important moments in history, as well as a bit of backstory as to how they are linked together.
For a large part of my academic career in the public school system of Philadelphia, I wasn’t given or handed an opportunity to learn comprehensively about African/African American history. Diane Jones-Evans, my grandmother and a former Temple employee, made it one of her life’s many missions to expand my horizons and educate me in the fine arts, chess and more specifically, the history of my ancestors. To that end, she enrolled me in the “Black History Workshop for Kids” (BHWC for short), founded by Melodye Micere Van Putten.
It was there on Temple University’s Ambler Campus grounds that I learned about the transatlantic slave trade. What my ancestors endured during these time periods. I learned about innovators and scientists, kings, queens, as well as significant historic events within the United States. One such significant event was Juneteenth (June 19th, 1865), or “Jubilee Day,” the day federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to ensure all enslaved people were freed. Along with being free, Union General William T. Sherman enacted Special Field Order No. 15, known colloquially as “forty acres and a mule.” The plan was broken into parts, but the most known aspect dictated that each formerly enslaved family would receive “not more than forty acres of tillable ground.” However, this was soon written into obsolescence by President Andrew Jackson’s Reconstruction law, which returned all land under federal control to its previous owners – the white slave owners.
Immediately following the federal troops’ movement into Texas, the “Jim Crow South laws,” a series of laws designed to segregate, discriminate, criminalize and disenfranchise, were drafted to restrict the civil rights of Black people. Most freed African enslaved people were forced into sharecropping, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a tenant farmer especially in the southern U.S. who is provided with credit for seed, tools, living quarters and food, who works the land, and who receives an agreed share of the value of the crop minus charges.”
At the outset, sharecropping was a system rife with high interest rates, unreliably variable harvests, merchants who manipulated the system to keep tenant farm families in untenable debt, and laws favoring landowners. As such, these laws made it next to impossible and in some instances illegal for sharecroppers to sell their crops to anyone other than the landlord. In essence, the term “slave” was eliminated and repackaged as “sharecropper.”
This effectively ensured that all freed enslaved African people were forced to either sign labor contracts with those same landowners, e.g., become a “sharecropper,” or be evicted. The threat of eviction in and of itself wasn’t all that frightening a reality; however, this, coupled with the Vagrancy Act of 1866 which was passed by the General Assembly on January 15, 1866, meant that any person who appeared to be unemployed or homeless would be forced into “employment” for a term of up to three months. Essentially nothing had intrinsically changed for the former slaves. They were still placed into unfavorable circumstances where they were forced to work by law.
I don’t think this abridged version completely covers the historical events of Juneteenth; however, it is my hope that sharing this information with you, however brief the format, gives context as I share my personal thoughts, and feelings on this day.
I’ve never personally looked at this day as a celebration. It has been more of a reminder that the process by which I exist was made possible through the sacrifice of those that have come before me. Those that possess more than just a desire to push for change, no matter how small, against systems that would conveniently forget that we are human. Systems that would legislate laws that block our humanity, our freedom, our ability to prosper. Systems that would forget its promises held and leave to future generations the responsibility of bringing justice to one of this country’s crimes against humanity. I am humbled by the strength that my ancestors summoned, that freedom fighters of today must summon, to persevere through an injustice of which has never been fully acknowledged, and surely continues today in different forms.
The Senate recently passed a bill that formally recognized Juneteenth as a national holiday. Whereas I am pleased, I also realize that this is just the bare minimum that should be done to rectify these injustices. Comparatively, some state legislatures are attempting to ban Critical Race Theory. I believe learning about our history, our true history, and being able to hold meaningful conversations to shed ourselves of past injustices that have been interwoven into our country’s foundation means that we are better equipped to form a more perfect Union. We have yet a road ahead of us, and although a federal holiday marking the freedom of my ancestors is welcome, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that this doesn’t address the injustices and broken promises. However, it is my hope that we will continue to make progress as a country so that one day “all men are created equal” rings with a bit more truth
Marcus Collins, DBA ’21, chief strategy officer and marketing professor
Juneteenth, I’m embarrassed to say, was a new concept for me until just a few years ago. That says a lot for a Black man who was born and raised in the blackest city in the country—Detroit, Michigan.
In no way should that be considered a condemnation of the Detroit public school system and the amazing teachers who poured into me in my youth. Rather, it is more so a critique on the absence of Juneteenth from the broader cultural zeitgeist. The atrocities and travails of slavery were a constant refrain in the classroom, in the media that told stories of the Black experience in America, and in the discourse about what it means to be an African American.
However, Juneteenth was somehow omitted from the narrative that I consumed and, consequently, outside of my body of knowledge. It took a television show, Blackish, to bring this into my consciousness. I suppose that is fitting considering my work as an advertiser (the lead character in the show is a Black advertising executive) and my research on the spread and adoption of cultural production.
Nevertheless, watching this particular episode that explored the history of Juneteenth felt both familiar and new, as if I heard it before but for the first time. I felt so many emotions: saddened to think of my people who remained in-chained and under the foot of terror and brutality, ashamed that I had not known of such an important milestone in the Black experience of this country, and accountable for letting others know who, like me, were consciously unaware.
I felt emboldened by the resilience of Black America.
Needless, Juneteenth has now become a cultural ritual for me—much like the celebration of MLK’s birthday—that is filled with meaning. It is a day that I purposefully reflect on my relationship with my country and my identity, reconciling where we’ve been and where we are today.
It is a day for rejoicing and mourning.
It is a day of gratitude and grievance.
It is a day that will no longer be hidden from our collective consciousness nor our conversations.
It is a day that my children will consider their Independence Day.
Torri Burrell, business management major, Class of 2023
Juneteenth is important for all Black people—especially those like me who are so heavily focused on celebrating Black excellence. As a Black woman, a small business owner and a Fox student, the history of Juneteenth is one of the reasons I am able to thrive in ways my ancestors did not have the chance to. Their sacrifices, strength and ability to stand for what they believed was right is one of the main reasons all Black people are free today.
Those broken shackles are the reason Black people of all skin tones, backgrounds and ages are able to make something out of themselves. This holiday means a lot to me, personally and professionally, because Black people gaining freedom is the biggest accomplishment we could achieve in order to reach even higher heights. I think we should all try to live our lives to the fullest and make the best of it because our freedom was fought so hard for so many years and through so many generations. We mustn’t let that hard work go to waste. Knowing how hard our freedom was fought for gives me the motivation to work hard every day and be the best I can be.
The progression of the holiday is also something to celebrate because it started small—celebrations found only in select cities, and now Juneteenth is commemorated all over the country. This awarding day is not just for African Americans, it should be celebrated within all races because not only did we become free, we became (and are still becoming) united over time, in terms of desegregation—making it possible for different races to interact and even love one another. If that isn’t something that should be celebrated then I’m not sure what is.
I use myself to represent Black excellence and to see it every day surrounding my African American family. It makes me proud to be Black. Our history may not be beautiful but our strength, skin, courage, knowledge and more make us beautiful because we have overcome so many trials and tribulations to get where we are now and I couldn’t be happier.