The battle for Black liberation in the United States has not ended, as this year’s Juneteenth celebrations intertwined with the continued protests against systemic racism.
Hundreds gathered Downtown on June 19, marching through the streets, celebrating and protesting at the same time. Activists riding in a decorated pickup truck led protesters through the streets, while speakers riding in the tailgate led chants, saying “Juneteenth, unity.”
Since the 1800s, African Americans have celebrated the annual holiday known as “Juneteenth,” also known as “Freedom Day” and “Emancipation Day,” which honors the end of slavery in the United States. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation being signed on the first day of 1863, slaves in Galveston, Texas, weren’t aware of their freedom until two and a half years later on June 19, 1865, when federal troops took control of the state.
“It’s been 155 years since then—to the date,” said activist La’Asia Stith in front of City Hall on June 19. “Why are we still going through the same things?”
This year’s Juneteenth celebrations were conjoined with the continued protests surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black lives at the hands of police. Protesters marched through the streets of Downtown, passing through Skid Row to deliver bags with kits of food, water, hand sanitizer and masks to unhoused Angelenos. City Hall was the ending point, where protesters were met with live performances from local musicians, organized by the activists.
Signs held by protestors highlight the other forms of oppression that Black people in this country currently face, like lack of affordable housing, jobs and health care, as well as mass incarceration.
“A lot of people aren’t paying attention,” Stith said, highlighting how many people don’t see that the fight for equality hasn’t ended. She emphasized the importance of education, and how Black history is often erased from what we’re taught.
“Most Black people who are millennials don’t even know what Juneteenth is until we make a difference by standing up, coming out, making noise, playing our music and educating them on every level we can,” she said.
Stith, who also goes by “Ms. IAMART,” was among a group of activists who set up a tent stand across from City Hall to pass out free water, food and masks to protesters, as part of its movement Chosen for Change. The group of activists also offered quiz games about African history, and if someone gets the question right, they get a free shirt from its brand Be Dope 365.
“For me, Juneteenth has been a celebration of Black heritage,” Deoné Newell said while holding a sign in front of City Hall. “It’s a celebration of how much we as a society have evolved and acknowledge the scars that are in American history.”
Newell drove from Victorville to attend the Juneteenth celebrations at City Hall, saying how the holiday is extremely important for not just Black Americans but for the entire country.
Newell said she believes Juneteenth should be a national holiday, and many other activists and legislators share the same view. The last time Congress approved a national holiday was in 1983, when they established Martin Luther King Jr. Day to observe the iconic civil rights leader. Elected officials in Texas announced their intent to change that and introduce legislation to make Juneteenth a federally observed, paid holiday.
“It’s the true Independence Day,” said Phillip Melo while holding a Juneteenth sign outside City Hall. “The idea that July 4th is an Independence Day for some has always been kind of apparent,” he said, saying how that part of history must be acknowledged.
Melo teaches history at a community college in the Inland Empire. As an educator, he highlighted the historical significance of Juneteenth and how it must be taught more. He also noted the importance of teaching about the Tulsa Massacre as well as the Colfax Massacre.
“These things need to be acknowledged,” he said, saying it’s not for the sake of making people feel bad but viewing it as something we can move forward from as a country.
The Tulsa Massacre refers to the event in 1921 where a white mob burned a prosperous, Black-owned community to the ground. Historians say an estimated 300 Black people died, and another 8,000 were left homeless.
Rather than rebuild what historians call “The Black Wall Street,” local officials destroyed all documentation of the horrific event, erasing it from history. Local museums and historical societies in Oklahoma have come to terms with its history, now educating people about it in detail, but many still aren’t aware of Tulsa’s dark past.
The 1873 Colfax Massacre happened in Louisiana during the reconstruction era, a time where African Americans were majorly targeted by the Ku Klux Klan and other white domestic terrorists.
Tensions were high during elections of the reconstruction era in the South. African Americans wanted to exercise their right to vote but white southerners didn’t want to lose power. The tensions led to a massacre that occurred on Easter Sunday of 1873 where a white mob murdered an estimated 60 to 150 Black men.
“We can’t ignore these things and expect the country to progress if we don’t acknowledge the faults that unfortunately are prevalent,” he said.
And while major progressive strides have been made in the direction of racial equality by Martin Luther King Jr. and the other civil rights leaders in the past, Stith said there’s still a long way to go.
“I’m grateful for where we are,” Stith said. “But I want us to be further because I know we can. Because anything we put our minds to, we can do it.”