Juneteenth: the celebration of freedom
What does Juneteenth mean to me? The first word that comes to mind is FREEDOM for my ancestors! As many of you are well aware, on June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas freeing the slaves. Imagine the joy of my ancestors when General Granger and his army arrived to free them all. To be born in captivity and never know what freedom looked like must have been a huge relief. For the first time in their lives, they were no longer considered property, which I sincerely believe gave them a sense of hope!
My grandfather, Curtis Lee Cook Sr., was born in 1917 in Austin, Texas. I vaguely remember the stories he told me about my great-grandparents who grew up on the same plantation where their parents were enslaved. He used to say, “They never thought the day would come when they would be free.” It’s hard to think about what they had to go through during those times, but knowing that I have a voice and rights to fight for equality now means so much more to me in adult life than ever before. Unfortunately, my people still face some of the same challenges: George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Emmet Till and many more.
On June 17, 2021, Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday, which I now believe will make everyone aware of the significance of this date. As a black man, I didn’t really know what Juneteenth was or what it meant until I went to the University of Nevada, Reno. There I joined the BSO (Black Student Organization) club and learned the true story of Jubilee Day. Now I have to educate not only my child, but also my family and friends about the beauty of African American culture and all the great things we have contributed and created in the world. However, I wish we could have a fireworks display on June 16 to celebrate my people’s independence, as they were not free on July 4, 1776.
So for me, Juneteenth means everything! Social justice, hope, rights, barbecues, story time, and just a day of celebration and recognition for my ancestors. This is where the independence of a once-possessed person can now be male or female and make their own decisions.