Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans after the Civil War. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when news of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation finally reached the last of enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Depending on your identity and lived experience, your awareness and understanding of Juneteenth may vary. For some of us, our families and communities may have been celebrating Juneteenth for generations. For others of us, our awareness of Juneteenth might be fairly new.
Juneteenth was not included in most of our history books and is not yet a national holiday. This year we wanted to highlight Juneteenth and bring attention to this important holiday that centers the Black/African American experience. To help us unpack, understand, and celebrate Juneteenth this year, we interviewed one of our AMAZEworks consultants, Richard Webb, founder of Second Layer Consulting. With humility and transparency, we honor his story and perspective. Here’s what Richard had to say:
What has been your history of celebrating Juneteenth as a Black American?
Richard: I didn’t have the history in my home growing up – and so my experience of celebrating Junetten is minimal. Growing up in Iowa, I wasn’t aware of Juneteenth until I was a teenager. I did not grow up in an environment where there was specific communication around it. It wasn’t something I learned about in my school or home community. There wasn’t a presence commemorating Black historical events or American historical events such as Juneteenth.
How did your experience begin to change as you grew older?
Richard: My experience was more tokenized at the undergrad level. Even within the Black Student Union, there wasn’t a huge emphasis. I didn’t gain a deeper understanding until I moved from Iowa to Minnesota, where I learned more about ways communities were coming together to observe Juneteenth. I observed, attended, and celebrated at local events, such as the Freedom Celebrations at Theo Wirth Park. However, I ended up pausing my interaction because of violence that broke out. The events seemed to me to be more of a social gathering than it was to celebrate and raise Black consciousness.
What is your experience of Juneteenth like today?
Richard: Today it is important for me to be more serious and reflective in my own space. My celebration is more of an individual introspective experience, specifically within the last 5 years. I’m noticing now, particularly the experience around the murder of George Floyd, industries want to celebrate Juneteenth. To be honest, it feels more like tokenization or appropriation because I don’t see it driving systemic change. The emergence of different TV shows communicating the history around the Tulsa Massacre, such as Lovecraft Country, have touchpoints that jog my consciousness and hopefully the consciousness of others.
What will you do from here?
Richard: From here I’d like to be more intentional about external observation (and celebration) of Juneteenth. Internally, I want to read more, watch more, and do service as a person that develops and works with race, equity, etc. And I also want to engage in self-care so that what I put out in the world can be more reflective. At some point, I want to create opportunities for teachable moments, such as cookouts and teaching events, combining food and community to learn and grow together.
What advice do you have for those of us who want to engage, observe, and celebrate Juneteenth?
Richard: Have intentional conversations, which is a debate I have with myself around Black fatigue. But be intentional with your activity, create a habit of supporting Black businesses, purchasing Black art, and listening to Black music, such as this Juneteenth playlist. Lean in. Be intentional about learning about history, experiencing history, and creating a different legacy for yourself and others.
You can start by listening to this and noticing what it brings out in you:
Lift Every Voice and Sing
– Kirk Franklin, Song by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won
Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast
God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land
Our native land
Source: Musixmatch, Songwriters: R.m. Carter / J.r. Johnson / J.w. Johnson, Lift Every Voice and Sing lyrics © Edward B Marks Music Company, Marks Edward B. Music Corp., Glorysound, A Div. Of Shawnee Press, Inc.
Thank you, Richard, for sharing your story, perspective, and reflections with us!
Minnesota Juneteenth Resources
If you are interested in digging deeper into the history and celebration of Juneteenth, here are some local Minnesota Resources curated and provided by our AMAZEworks colleague and consultant Vanessa Steele:
Ms. Jewelean Jackson, “one of the founding mothers of Minneapolis Juneteenth”, on her contributions to the local celebration. (article)
Archives Natalie Hart, Sumner Library – Hennepin County Libraries Juneteenth Story Strolls
Other Juneteenth library events
(This is not an exhaustive list.)