Juneteenth Essay Winners
The IDEA Committee Juneteenth Essay Contest Winners
Congratulations to our essay authors Taylor Scott, Ava Kellner, and Jordynn Killion!
As a child I thought that Juneteenth was just a day to celebrate the end of slavery and while that holds true, it is so much more than just that.
Juneteenth is a day to acknowledge the fight for freedom in America and the people that risked their lives for that fight. It is a day to celebrate the accomplishments of black people from then and now and show the world what we are capable of. It is a day to know that despite all the work that has been done in the past, there is still more to be done now and we must still fight for equality for all people in America. It is a day that is beautiful, colorful and filled with black joy and still despite it being a federal holiday, there are many people that don't know about it.
The first time I learned about Juneteenth I was in elementary school. Living in a predominantly white area, my mother had always made sure that I learned about the history of black people in America and what we had gone through…about why June 19th, was such a special day for black people in America because all slaves were officially freed on that day in 1865…I first realized that people were not taught the history behind Juneteenth during quarantine. After the massive media coverage of Black Lives Matter, people started to learn more and more about black history and problems. However, most people still did not know the history behind it.
In schools the history of black people widely focuses on the bad things that have happened to black people in history, slavery, Jim Crow, etc.. While all incredibly important to learn, we barely hear about the accomplishments of black people.
In my math class, a girl in asked what Juneteenth was and why we had off. My teacher had no answer for her because he did not know what the holiday was about himself, and everyone gave me side glances expecting me to explain.
This is the problem with how we learn black history. It has fallen on the shoulders of black people, even children, to educate about black problems and if Juneteenth is a day off for everyone then they should at least take the time to learn the history behind it and why it is important.
Before the Black Lives Matter movement really gained traction, I had never heard about Juneteenth. Growing up in a predominantly white community this holiday had never been mentioned in a way that I could learn about it.
So many people think slavery only existed in the South. But NYC was actually the epicenter of slavery in the north and Number 2 in the business of slavery nationally. Some economic historians believe that the NY stock exchange began with the buying and selling of Africans at the the wall street slave market - which was built with the help of enslaved Africans. Some of the earliest insurance companies in America insured enslavers against the loss, damage or death of their enslaved Africans. And when slavery ended in the NY metropolitan area, it freed about 25% of the population here.
John Jay, who was a resident here in Bedford and who's estate you can still visit just up the road was a leader in the gradual abolition of slavery in the state. During his term as governor (1795-1801), the New York State Legislature passed (and Jay signed) "An Act For The Gradual Abolition of Slavery, 1799" which stated that children born after July 4, 1799 to enslaved mothers in New York would be born free, but would have to provide free services to their mothers' enslavers until they reached age 25 if female and age 28 if male. So while they were technically "born free" they were not in fact free until they reached the ages of 25 and 28. This information should not be surprising to hear especially for those of us that grew up here in NY, and yet I'm sure some of you just heard that for the first time. Understanding the complexities of human history and that things aren't always black and white but sometimes gray is also an important lesson to learn.
"When we don't learn about the Tulsa Massacre or who the Freedom Riders were, we don't learn about the ways in which despite being freed, Americans still deprived Black people of their freedom, education, and ability to prosper.
We know that Juneteenth declared freedom for the last enslaved Africans here in America but it also immediately put limitations to their freedom. The same document that told them they were free also told them they would not be supported in idleness, they couldn't just hang around and be free like other Americans could. The could not collect at military posts like other Americans could. And throughout our nation's history, practices like segregation and red lining continued and continues to limit the freedom of Black Americans.
Some of you may have heard of the promise of 40 acres and a mule - I want to share some of the history behind that. It was actually a very progressive move by general Sherman in 1865, he had met with 20 ministers who were leaders from the Black community in Atlanta, GA and then 4 days later issued the field order that would grant 400,000 acres of land along the coastline from Charleston, SC down to the St. Johns River in FL. And it would grant plots no larger than 40 acres to formerly enslaved Africans. 40,000 of whom settled on this land and established their own peaceful self governing community.
Sherman later order that the army could lend them a mule hence where the phrase 40 acres and a mule came from. But President Andrew Johnson later overturned this order and they lost ownership of this land. Imagine the wealth they would have acquired and been able to pass down to their descendants and invest in their communities if they still owned the 400,000 acres of waterfront property that runs from Charleston, SC down to the St. Johns River in FL.
I'm willing to bet that the kind of poverty facing Black communities there today would not be happening. Understanding that history and how it impacts the world today is imperative knowledge to healing our future."