Date: June 18, 2024

Juneteenth was first celebrated as a national holiday in 2021, and I quickly realized that I had been saved from my annual July 4 discomfort. I don’t recall at what age I started squirming at the very thought of all the Independence Day hoopla.  I do know that I was not quite a teenager when I realized that I was merely enduring my family’s celebrations — waving Old Glory and clapping on 2 and 4 to Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” 

I was born 75 years ago in Richmond, VA, the Civil War Capital of the Confederacy.  It was the last year of the 1940’s — five years prior to Brown v. Board.  Strictly enforced racial segregation was in full and efficient operation.  Brown had dismantled separate-but-equal in theory, but left the Jim Crow laws to live on in practice until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 put teeth into stopping the nation’s 100-year old legally enforced apartheid.  I was 13 in 1964, and no longer had the patience to tolerate the nonsense of celebrating July 4 in our neighborhood park where prior to ‘64 we Black folk could walk through, but not sit on any bench or on the park grass. To do so was to break the law and risk arrest.  Although, we still had to pay taxes for its maintenance for white enjoyment.

I found it absurd then (and barely tolerable now) to be a part of any celebration that assumed my love of a country that steadfastly refused to love me back — in history, tradition, practice and heritage.  I was not alone.  For example, when standing among black people to sing the National Anthem and upon reaching the final phrase, “land of the free and home of the brave,” someone would proclaim, “Yeah, free white folks and brave Negroes.”  Inevitably and without fail.  I am relieved now by how easy it is to avoid having to sing patriotic songs — those odes to America’s beauty, majesty and love of liberty when so many people who are not white are minimized and oppressed.

So, at age 72 along came Juneteenth — my national liberation day.  There are those who believe that slavery ended that day, June 19, 1865 when enslaved Texans at Galveston were given the news of freedom.  Not true.  Slavery ended in December 1865 when the last State ratified the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution. Juneteenth actually marks the end of the Confederate rebellion.  It is thus a fitting way to mark the beginning of realistic hope for unencumbered freedom.  Thank you Juneteenth for giving me and all like me a reason — observed now throughout the nation — to salute the possibility of freedom.  No squirming necessary.

Riley Temple, JD, MTS
Collection Growth Specialist for the African American Episcopal Historical Collection
Bishop Payne Library

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