Kelly E. Navies, Museum Specialist of Oral History
As my colleagues have stated so well, Juneteenth is for everyone who believes in freedom, and who believes in creating a new world. You will see with the spread of Juneteenth throughout the country to different places.
Juneteenth is for the generations to come together - the children and the elders - to share their history. My hometown of Berkeley, California has had a citywide celebration since 1986, for example. Juneteenth gives us a space to share art and scholarship, such as the work of Annette Gordon Reed. You might see someone, for example, reenact Frederick Douglass's speech, What to the Slave is the 4th of July. You would see young people sharing the poetry of our legendary poets, such as Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Claude McKay. Sonia Sanchez, June Jordan and many others. That's certainly what we would do. We used that time to educate and to get the youth involved in in the history and literature of their community. There would also be original poetry, dance and performance art.
This idea of space is so important. When communities came together to raise money to start Emancipation parks, it was no small thing. You see even today that we still have to struggle for these spaces. In Oakland, CA there was a big conflict a couple of years ago about having Black people gather around Lake Merritt to socialize. The people came out and said 'no, we're not giving up this space because it's important for us to come together and love each other as a community and glorify who we are as African Americans.'
You see that again in Washington DC along the U Street corridor with the protests that have evolved around Go-Go music in the last two years. One sector of the community tried to ban Go-Go Music and tell a company to turn their music down where it had been playing it for years. The music became a focal point for the community to come together and say, ‘this is who we are.’
Juneteenth is another one of those ways that African Americans come together throughout the African diaspora. They are saying, 'We're here. We're occupying this space. We love who we are. We love our people. We want to pass on our history and culture to our children and we intend to move on into the future.'
Juneteenth is celebrated, again, by Africans all over the world. You have Día de Los Negros in Mexico, for those African Americans who fled Texas and went into Mexico and you have it expressed in different ways all over.
Our curators will continue their conversation in the third and final post of this three-part series by exploring the importance of the holiday and the role it plays in our Nation and abroad. If you are interested in learning more about the holiday or how you can bring Juneteenth celebrations into your home and community, please visit our Juneteenth portal.
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