June 19 is Freedom Day, a day when many African-Americans celebrate our independence. Commonly known as Juneteenth, it’s the anniversary of the day when the last people of African descent in America were released from slavery in Galveston, Texas in 1865.
We don’t celebrate January 1, 1863, the day the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, because many black folks remained in chains for over two years. For black communities in Texas, when the last of us were truly released from bondage, Juneteenth instantly became a day of celebration. Over the years, it’s become a tradition throughout black America, marked by festivals, cookouts, parties, community events, and family reunions.
This is a time for us to come together, love each other, and revel in our freedom. In many communities, it’s also a time to reflect on our history before the hulls of slave ships, and to talk of our liberation from the continued bonds of white supremacy and racism. Though we are more free than we have ever been, we still suffer under these oppressive systems.
We are still subject to cycles of injustice that lead to more of us serving time behind bars, and for longer sentences. We must remember that black transgender women are subjected to hate and violence at a terrifying rate, one that has reduced their average life expectancy to just 35. We must honor names and stories of those who have been murdered, like Goddess Diamond of New Orleans, who lost her life on June 5.
Even as we fight for our liberation, we must remember that we, ourselves, are free. We are free because we were born free. Though society denies us that freedom, we will claim our birthright for ourselves.
On Juneteenth, celebrate your freedom. Celebrate each other. Dance and sing and throw your arms around everyone you love just because you can. Remember that we as a people have come a long way since June 19, 1865. Remember that we have a long way to go.
It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.