In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a document intended to liberate enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy. Two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, the last enslaved African Americans in Texas were finally freed. This date is known as Juneteenth.
Juneteenth, also known as “Freedom Day” or the “Black Independence Day” is recognized as a national holiday which commemorates the liberation of African Americans in the United States.
Every year in Los Angeles, Juneteenth is celebrated in a community celebration called the “Juneteenth Heritage Festival” in Leimert Park Village. This community celebration aims to bring friends and family together to enjoy art, music and food with one another.
Dr. Deanna Cooke, director of engaged learning for the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts at LMU expressed, “Black people need things to celebrate…it is an opportunity for people to come together, to acknowledge our shared connection, to celebrate Black people in a way that's positive.”
Cooke continued, “When we think about Juneteenth…It's commemorating liberation, but it took the Emancipation Proclamation, it took the 13th Amendment, and even with the 13th Amendment, it did not emancipate everyone.”
Reports show that there were Black people enslaved in Mississippi and other states in the south well into the 1960s through a practice called peonage slavery that entrapped descendants of enslaved Black people through debt and limited their awareness and contact to the outside world, as reported in a series of research by Vice.
While this day is usually a celebration, LMU students and faculty claim to have a difficult time celebrating this year for two reasons: the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests happening around the world and the Covid-19 health crisis.
On May 25, George Floyd, an African American man was murdered while in the Minneapolis Police Department’s custody, as previously reported by the Loyolan. The murder was caught on camera and quickly circulated the internet, catalyzing a series of “Black Lives Matter” protests around the world.
According to the Black Lives Matter movement, “Black Lives Matter began as a call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism.” According to the website, BLM is a grassroots organization that was founded in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the infamous murder of Trayvon Martin.
“Being from the Southside of Chicago, and Chicago being one of the most segregated cities, this was nothing new to me. Just a few years ago, basically we found out that our mayor and mayor’s office and the Chicago Police Department had covered up the murder of Laquan McDonald,” said Amaya Lorick, a junior African American studies major.
According to CNN, 16 police officers were involved in the murder and the cover up of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Evidence of the murder was allegedly disposed of by a Lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department who was later fired, as reported by CNN. The officer who fired 16 shots into the 17-year-old was eventually sentenced to six years and nine months in prison for second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, as reported by CNN.
In regards to the current protests that sparked from the murder of George Floyd, Lorick states, “I was up one night and I just cried for three hours. I realized that even though I was trying to address my feelings, at the same time I was telling myself ‘this is nothing new.’”
In response to the protests, many fundraising efforts have emerged around the world. Brothers of Consciousness co-presidents, Christian Jackson and Dezmin Hemmans organized a successful fundraiser which raised more than $45,000 with the help of multiple LMU student organizations, as previously reported by the Loyolan.
In response to the BLM protests, Hemmans, a junior finance major said, “I feel like oftentimes Black movements and Black struggles for independence are cast off as un-American, but follow the same steps that America has made in its founding… Whether it's through protests, whether it's through riots whether it's through legislation.”
Similarly Lorick stated, “This isn't a seperate history, this should be embedded in American history because it is American history.”
When asked why he thinks it is important to commemorate Freedom Day, Jackson, a junior dual degree entrepreneurship and aims major said, “If we continue to put Juneteenth on a pedestal and make sure more and more, not only Black Americans, but all Americans, recognize what this day immortalizes and how it’s so profound in today's current context, that's a really powerful thing for all of us.”
Recent BLM protests come during a time where police brutality has shaken the United States, with George Floyd’s murder being one of hundreds of examples of Black men and women dying in the hands of law enforcement. Even at protests, there are records of protestors being tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, tazed or even beaten with batons, as reported by the Washington Post.
“It's hard to think about the 13th amendment, and the Emancipation Proclamation, and the days of which enslaved people earned their freedom, when you’re watching a man get choked out in the streets in 2020.”
Cooke also expressed her concerns about Juneteenth celebrations in 2020 due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. “I think there's a segment of the population, particularly our elders, who are still not willing to come together because of the Covid-19 health crisis… Juneteenth is about our heritage, it's about our culture so you can't [celebrate] it without the multigenerational community,” said Cooke.
Despite the protests against police brutality and the looming pandemic, students and faculty have expressed their desire to still remain positive during these worrisome times.
“There does seem to be a lot of compassion but also more consensus with law enforcement and politicians that this is not just a singular incident but real reform needs to be made,” said Cooke.
Quickly following the protests’ commencement and in an attempt to enact change and reform, the Minneapolis City Council vowed to disband their police department and replace it with a more community-centered system, according to Forbes.
Hemmans said he plans to commemorate Juneteenth this year by, “bringing more awareness and being thankful for all the different Black-led movements that led to our freedom and are still leading towards our path to justice and equity.”
Jackson said, “There are a lot of communities in America that celebrate Juneteenth in different ways… I can only hope that those who have a platform in the Black community continue to or start to raise awareness about what Juneteenth is.”
“There might be a protest on Juneteenth…sometimes activism is a great way to celebrate and be thankful for what we have but still push for more,” said Hemmans.
The Los Angeles Juneteenth Heritage Festival will be postponed until 2021 due to Covid-19. However, many celebrations will take place online in an attempt to maintain community, culture and celebration, while also abiding by social distancing restrictions.