Celebrate Juneteenth? I don’t get it


This week President Biden made Juneteenth an official national holiday. That means you get the day off from work, the Post Offices are closed, and so are the schools.

It means that it is a day for celebration, joy, festivities all over the United States.

This should be good news. The only occasion/event that I know of that has cheerfulness associated with the color black is Black Friday.

So why am I (a predominantly Black person) not jumping up and down for joy?

Because Juneteenth is a big fat lie. Juneteenth is about keeping people enslaved for two and a half years after they were freed. Juneteenth is about the government lying to people so that the wealthy could have free labor. Tell me, where is the joy in that? It is like celebrating all the broken treaties that the U.S. made with the Native Americans.

OK, the folks in Galveston, Texas, should be happy, because had things gone the other way, they might still be enslaved. Texans could be like the Japanese soldiers in World War II who survived on small islands and didn’t know the war was over for another 25 years. I don’t see the Japanese having marching bands for that.

OK, so it’s June 19, 1865. The legislature of Galveston, Texas, which is the westernmost area  in the Union at that time, gives up the charade. Two thousand federal troops, who were mostly 

Black, arrived in the last unoccupied Confederate state to tell the slaves that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, and that they are free.

President Abraham Lincoln had outlawed slavery two years prior, but there was a glitch in the teletype machine, and we’re just now finding out. Oh, and look, we’re a tad tardy getting the crops out, why don’t we wait until next year in 1866 to celebrate? What’s another six months?

It’s just a small technicality here, you have been free for over two years. Back pay? I don’t think so. Forty acres and a mule? Oh dear, that’s all been given out. But you are free, free as a bird to do anything you want as long as you don’t want what the white people won’t give you.

General Gordon Granger, who led the Union troops, made a big speech. In it he said, “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and property rights between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.

“They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Idleness? Remain home and hope “Ole Massa” is going to give them wages?

Many, many slaves did not remain quietly at their present homes. They headed out to their families, their real homes. Entire plantations were left empty with only white people to work them.

Felix Haywood, a North Carolina–born Texan, rejoiced in the news, which he heard in 1865. He knew it was a double-edged sword.

“Soldiers, all of a sudden, was everywhere — coming in bunches, crossing and walking and riding. Everyone was a-singing. We was all walking on golden clouds. Hallelujah! … Nobody took our homes away, but right off, colored folks started on the move. They seemed to want to get closer to freedom, so they’d know what it was like — it was a place or a city.

“We knowed freedom was on us, but we didn’t know what was to come with it. We thought we was going to get rich like the white folks. We thought we was going to be richer than the white folks, ’cause we was stronger and knowed how to work, and the whites didn’t, and they didn’t have us to work for them anymore. But it didn’t turn out that way. We soon found out that freedom could make folks proud, but it didn’t make ’em rich.”

It also made the white people angry. Wouldn’t you be angry if something you paid good money for up and walked away, and left you and your entitled family to toil in the fields?

Confederate soldiers put on their newly doffed uniforms and began a campaign of intimidation, murder, and lynching that soothed their wounds of losing the war, made them feel more in control of themselves, by taking it out on the unarmed, and they had the power of the uniform to make their horrific actions seem valid.

The resiliency of Black people is mind-boggling. That a race would not turn bitter, would not seek revenge under those circumstances, proves their superiority in adjusting to cataclysmic situations. Instead of harsh, hostile reactions to the duplicity, we choose to see the half-full glass and celebrate the goodness with parades, picnics, and parties. Nothing good can come from harboring evil in your heart.

I often think that the true losers of the agony of slavery are the white people. They were robbed of feeling empathy. They lost their sense of humanity, and became obsessed with covering up their sins, white washing the facts so that they don’t have to endure the pain of guilt. So that they don’t have to feel the residual effects of their ancestors and the silent advantages they were given at birth. 

To this day, whenever Black people try to crawl out of the pit which white supremacy has dug for them, they are labeled “socialists” or “thugs,” “anti-American.” Who is more American than the African American? Who keeps trying to make the country better while getting kicked in the teeth?

James Baldwin said, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anyone has ever said about it.”

So now we have a national holiday in which we do as Johnny Mercer says:


We gotta accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene


Yeah, I get it, I get why we celebrate it. I don’t get why we don’t celebrate the actual Emancipation Proclamation, but it’s better to be a cheerful soul than a dystopian.



  1. Bravo…clearly informed and well said, as always! Thank you for your extraordinary voice.

  2. Your insights and capacity to make us laugh at the un-laughable truths never cease to amaze me. Thank you for the historic reminder and the warning to mind the “pit” which could devour us if we are not alert to the danger. Forever a fan of Abigail McGrath’s work!

  3. Thank you, Abigail, for illuminating the complexity when others are happy to “keep it simple”.

    • I am a Texan and read because I was intrigued by the title. I continued because I was captivated by the truth. Great article Lady A. McGrath and I look forward to more.

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