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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

OPINION: What is Juneteenth and why should you care

Illustration by Savanna Nichols

The Emancipation Proclamation is often seen as the document that freed all enslaved people in the United States, and that was the case for most Americans. The enslaved people in states under Confederate control would not get their taste of freedom until June 19, 1865. 

The last group to be freed was enslaved in Galveston, Texas, and on June 19 were freed by 2,000 Union troops. Thus that day became known as Juneteenth to the newly freed African Americans. 

Juneteenth is known as the second Independence Day, and though it is widely celebrated amongst Black people, the history remains unknown to several other Americans.

 The legacy of the holiday shows the value of not giving up hope in dark and uncertain times. 

In 2021, President Biden signed legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday after renewed interest in the holiday during the summer of 2020 with the protests that followed the needless deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor

Early celebrations often involved prayers and family gatherings, and in some cases pilgrimages to Galveston. 

In today’s society, many celebrations take place among families in homes, and in larger cities parades and festivals are held. This year, Galveston plans to celebrate with a reenactment march, parade and festival. 

For me, Juneteenth used to not mean much, but since my attempts to reconnect with my culture on my dad’s side of the family, it means so much more.

For a long time, I was disconnected from my Black heritage mainly due to my own isolation and the fact that my dad wasn’t in the picture. I was angry that he left, and so I pushed everyone else related to him away, which meant I grew up solely with white influences. It’s hard to learn about a side of the family when you don’t know them at all. 

Luckily, I pulled my head out of the ground and realized that I could talk to his, and more importantly, my relatives without talking to him in any capacity. I was able to reconnect with my paternal grandmother, and she has been such a wonderful support system in helping me learn about our heritage and history. 

Before reconnecting, I knew about the basic history of Juneteenth, and was able to educate others on it, but I lacked the deeper feelings and attachment to the holiday that many of my peers have. 

It was primarily through my grandmother that I learned about the emotional significance of Juneteenth that I should have. Because, despite none of my ancestors being the freed Galveston slaves, we are still family and we still have that shared history. There’s an unbreakable bond that comes from being enslaved, and we continue to share that bond that our ancestors forged. 

What really opened my eyes to the importance of Juneteenth was my grandmother telling me about our ancestors that she knew who lived on plantations and had heard stories about. She herself briefly lived on a non-operational plantation, but still worked as ‘the help’ as a child. 

Without the Union troops pushing Galveston to free its slaves, who knows how much further slavery would have gone on in the state. My grandmother could have lived on a fully operational plantation instead. 

This year will be the first year that I plan on celebrating Juneteenth with my family and I hope to include some traditional aspects like eating and drinking red foods. This practice of eating and drinking red foods is meant to represent both resilience and joy. 

It’s important to celebrate and understand the significance of Juneteenth so that the memories and sacrifices of the Union troops and the freed slaves live on and so that hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself. 

Please educate yourself this Juneteenth and onward. 

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About the Contributor
Maleah Evans
Maleah Evans, Reporter
Maleah Evans is a second year reporter for The Sunflower. Evans is a junior studying history and communications with a journalism emphasis. They plan to pursue a career working in a museum. In their free time they can often be found ranting about cryptids or Greek Mythology. Evans uses they/them pronouns.

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    Andrew McCoskeyJun 23, 2024 at 1:43 pm

    Well said, proud of you!