Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued Jan. 1, 1863, it did not immediately free all enslaved people in the United States. Texas was seen as a safe haven for slavery well after the proclamation, and it wasn’t until federal troops traveled to Galveston to take control of the state in 1865 that enslaved people in Texas were freed. A year later, on June 19, 1866, the first Juneteenth celebrations were held. Juneteenth continues to be observed by the Black community and is often celebrated through parades, barbecues, live music, and art.
Though as time progresses, an important question arises: Is Juneteenth really something to celebrate? Our freedom should’ve been inherent. The celebration of granting human beings the basic right of freedom is grotesque in nature. Black people should have never been perceived as capital, or anything other than human beings for that matter. This sentiment is still alive in the rampant anti-Blackness we face. Is our freedom something to celebrate? No. Is our present-day and our futures something to celebrate? Now, I agree.
As an Afrofuturist who believes in and wants to see better Black futures, I have good reason to commemorate my ancestors’ struggle and triumph on Juneteenth. Afrofuturists credit the future of freedom that lived in our enslaved ancestors’ minds. It was an ambitious future that carried them toward the North Star in hopes of freedom. The future is freedom for Black people. Black babies. Our Black ancestors.
Our culture has resisted oppressive structures that still attempt to hold us down. We deserve to exist, thrive, and celebrate. On Juneteenth, we will celebrate a future free of the mass incarceration and police brutality that kills a disproportionate number of Black people. We will celebrate a future in which our youth will be scientists, engineers, executive directors of organizations, and accredited fashion designers. But above all, we will celebrate a future in which our Black communities will be alive.
Because our communities are subject to disproportionate rates of systemic oppression and violence, we are continuously having to explain that our lives equally matter. Our being alive is both a triumph and a testimony — something other communities have the privilege of taking for granted every single day.
When people in our community have passed, instead of calling it a funeral or memorial, we use terms like “homecoming” or “celebration of life.” Yes, we mourn the loss, but we are determined not to let mourning win the day. Instead, we celebrate the life and homecoming of our loved ones into the new cosmic reality.
My friend and pastor Gavin Rogers recently reminded me that for people of faith, this notion is seen through the idea of biblical liberation theology, which says that no one should spend time forced into slavery. In the New Testament, Jesus’ view of liberation can be seen through his interpretation of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring Good News to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18-19). Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day, marks a similar liberation.
Liberation means loving our communities for what they are and loving the generations that have contributed to what our communities will become. It means healing our generational traumas and wounds through advocacy work and making our privileges accessible to vulnerable communities. And it means exercising our freedoms through assembly and speech but most importantly, uplifting one another.
Black Freedom Factory will be celebrating Juneteenth along with other organizations that believe in celebrating the Black community’s triumphs. The entire week of June 19 will be celebrated through music, food, art, connecting, and furthering and keeping alive the vision of the future is freedom for San Antonio.