HARLEM, Manhattan — Juneteenth this year comes in the midst of weeks of protests for equal justice for black people, as well as a pandemic that’s had an outsize effect on communities of color.
Those facts, as well as the holiday’s origins, are reminders that Juneteenth serves as a bridge from the past, to the present, and the future, according to an historian and the co-founder of one of the region’s largest Juneteenth events.
Jamal Joseph, a Columbia University professor, said that Juneteenth is an event that embodies truths about American history.
“It’s a day that should, for black folks, make [us] remember that we remember,” Joseph told PIX11 News, in an interview, “and for white folks, to remember that they forgot.”
The Academy Award-nominated film program professor and cultural historian talked about the nature of the holiday’s origins.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln put the Emancipation Proclamation into effect, officially ending slavery in the United States. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when a Union Army General entered Galveston, Texas, with news of the proclamation, that enslaved people there learned they were free. It was the birth of Juneteenth.
“Yes, it was a celebration,” Joseph said, “but remember that they had lied to us.”
“It was the legal end of slavery,” Joseph continued, but also “the beginning of a struggle that continues to this day. People still had to work on those plantations.And when the plantation system began to devolve, there were chain gangs, and when the chain gangs began to devolve, there were the prisons — all of them using enslaved black labor.”
Joseph said that the current protests strike a blow against racism and white supremacy that run through American history today.
On Friday, there were dozens of protests and other events for Juneteenth, throughout New York City.
On Saturday, Harlem will host a large Juneteenth march. It’s guaranteed to be large because it’s usually the city’s largest Juneteenth parade.
Cordell Cleare, along with Imam Izak-EL Mu’eed Pasha of the historic Malcolm Shabazz Mosque, have organized the event for 27 years.
“Unfortunately this year,” Cleare said, “we won’t be able to have a parade, because they’re not issuing permits for social gatherings. But,” she continued, “we are going to march.”
“Juneteenth is an important holiday, not just for black Americans,” Cleare said, ‘not just for black Americans, [but] for all American. Black history is American history, and we have to know the beginnings to know where we’re going.”
Nicolette Julien-Perkins, and her sister, Shavonne Julien-Huang, spoke with PIX11 News as they looked at a poster advertising Saturday’s event in Harlem.
“I’m glad that they’re finally making it worldwide known,” Julien-Perkins said.
It was language used, in part, by President Donald Trump earlier this week.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the president said that he “made Juneteenth famous,” by planning his first new campaign rally on Juneteenth, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, scene of one of the most brutal massacres of African Americans in history, in the Greenwood neighborhood, in 1921.
The president postponed the rally to Saturday, June 20th.
Joseph, the historian and filmmaker, said that the Greenwood-Tulsa tragedy, as well as the statements like the president’s, show that there’s still a long way to go.
“We need to recognize that as we’re looking at the end of aspects of our oppression,” Joseph said, “this has to be the birth and the celebration not only that we have more freedoms, but that we have to continue to fight, and that we have to continue the fight, but do that in a celebratory way.”