An Enlightened Conversation on the Impact and Meaning of Juneteenth
Note: June 19th marks the celebration of Juneteenth, the holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States. This week, both branches of Congress voted to make Juneteenth the nation’s 12th federal holiday.
Two of Ceisler Media's bright minds got together - via an email chain - to share their views on the importance of the day.
Special Projects Manager Larry Miller is a West Philadelphia native, who spent years as an award-winning journalist for the Philadelphia Tribune before joining Ceisler Media in 2012.
Digital Associate Sharky Thomas, is a native of South Africa who moved to the United States in 2018. She briefly lived in New York City before landing in Philadelphia in 2020.
Sharky Thomas: Hi Larry. With Juneteenth around the corner, I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to reach out to draw from your experiences. What exactly is Juneteenth?
Larry Miller: Hi Sharky. The simple answer is that on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger issued a statement known as "General Order No. 3" in Galveston, Texas, saying, "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free." June 19, or Juneteenth, is now observed in 31 states. It is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day.
Sharky Thomas: Interesting, I've heard of Emancipation Day but didn't realize it was the same thing. In South Africa, where I’m from, F.W. de Klerk was like our Abraham Lincoln, in the sense that he was the president who called for reform to abolish Apartheid in 1990. Fun fact: Apartheid means apartness in Afrikaans.
Larry Miller: The difference is, it took more than two years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox for the news to actually reach the state of Texas.
Sharky Thomas: That's sad but makes sense. So what does Juneteenth mean to Black American's today?
Larry Miller: That's a much more complicated question than it seems. Without getting on a metaphorical soapbox, I think the history behind Juneteenth is becoming, dare I say, a bit more politicized than people realize.
Sharky Thomas: I completely understand what you mean by Juneteenth becoming politicized. As you said, President Obama observed Juneteenth/Emancipation Day as a national holiday in 2016, yet I don't recall people making a big deal out of it until last year, which I guess isn't a bad thing. The more people who know about the real history, the better it is for everyone.
Larry Miller: Yes, and America has an ugly bloody stain on its history because of slavery, and that isn't something we should forget. Slavery ended in America 159 years ago, but some people would argue that the vestiges of slavery are still with us. This is the 21st century. Black Americans have a universe of choices as to how they live, work and are educated. No Black American can be held back by racism now (subtle or overt) except by choice, in my opinion. Our successes have proven that.
Sharky Thomas: I agree that no Black Americans should be held back by racism. I disagree that certain Black Americans are not held back by it because I do feel people are products of their environment. I'm sure many Black American families have generationally passed on the effects of slavery the same way that some white families have passed on their generational wealth from those years. This is very prominent in South Africa, and although Apartheid only ended 27 years ago and slavery 159, you still see similarities between both Black communities.
Sharky Thomas: So, although the tools are out there, the resources are buried in the masses of information. Tools that could help people uplift themselves, their families and their future kids from their current and past situations are out there, but not everyone knows where to look. This is partly why I love what we do. We meet people where they are and give them the resources they need to better their lives.
Larry Miller: True, we should not forget that there are some Black Americans – who, because of circumstances, have very limited choices and definitely need a hand-up, and resources should be available for that.
Sharky Thomas: I saw that the Senate unanimously this week passed a resolution establishing June 19th as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US holiday.
Larry Miller: Yes, and the House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to do the same. It will become our 12th federal holiday after President Biden signs the legislation.
Sharky Thomas: That's great! As someone with a few years under his belt, is Juneteenth a day that you, your family and friends have celebrated? If so, how?
Larry Miller: It isn’t. I didn't learn about it when I was growing up, although the Civil Rights Movement did see the integration of Black American history into the curriculum of the Philadelphia School District. So, although I was taught about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman and Ralph Bunche and Charles Drew, I didn't know about Juneteenth until later.
Sharky Thomas: That's insane. So how did you learn about it then?
Larry Miller: In high school and during my college years, I had a sort of personal renaissance when I immersed myself in African American history. It started when I read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” Among the historical facts I read about was the active involvement of West African tribes in the Atlantic slave trade. You can bet that was an eye opener!
Larry Miller: Understand, I'm not a person who celebrates historical milestones of any kind to any degree. If the crowd is stepping to the left, Larry Miller is dancing to the right. That remark by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with political ideology, it's strictly metaphor.
Sharky Thomas: Ha ha, I've made note of the fact that your opinions are just yours and not all Black Americans think the same way.
Sharky Thomas: How do you think Juneteenth and the history of the day will impact America?
Larry Miller: I think that in the long term, Juneteenth will have a positive effect on America. Our nation is undergoing its own renaissance in a way. Renaissance is French for rebirth. So what do I mean by this?
Larry Miller: Any woman who has given birth will offer, in detail, the physical ordeal she goes through. All of the protests, peaceful or not, the townhalls and roundtable discussions on racism, equity, diversity, equal justice and political and social reforms – that sometimes become arguments - are all integral in this rebirthing of America. Juneteenth is part of that. As a society, we have to learn from the mistakes of our past and see them from the viewpoint of a civilization in transition. America is not what it was in 1863, or even 1963. I hope that the America of 2063 will be a nation that has forgiven itself of its wrongs and rectified them to blossom into a mature, balanced, peaceful and truly prosperous nation.
Sharky Thomas: You’ve given me a lot to think about and I’m looking forward to seeing and being a part of the renaissance this country is having. The future certainly looks bright from where I’m standing.
Sharky Thomas: This was very insightful and helpful. Thank you for taking the time to help educate your colleagues.
Larry Miller: Thank you Sharky, I found this a most interesting conversation and look forward to many more.
Larry Miller is a Senior Projects Manager in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia office.
Sharky Thomas is a Digital Associate in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia office.