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Juneteenth: An American Story

Written by Kindall Hayes | Edited by the Dávila Kafe Team

As a little girl, I was introduced to Juneteenth through my parents. On June 19, 1865 the last enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas were informed by Union soldiers that the federal government had signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. This day celebrates their freedom and liberation, our Juneteenth. Although the Emancipation Proclamation legally freed Black Americans two and a half years prior, they were kept enslaved by their oppressors who withheld the information until after harvest season so they could keep their labor force and wallets intact.

For my family, Juneteenth was and will always be an important tradition.

My first vivid memory of Juneteenth was watching my mother carefully adorn my two sisters in dresses, lace socks, and patent leather shoes. I was only three years old at the time, and too young to participate in the singing practices with the neighborhood girls. During a gathering of seventy to eighty people from my community, the girls performed the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice,” to kick off an evening of food, dancing, music, and oratorical performances. My favorite part of the evening was the African-attire fashion show, which paid homage to our roots.

Looking back, I recognize that many of the people who attended the Juneteenth celebrations, and bought African-American flag lapel pins from my father, became the members of my village—those who encouraged me and exposed me to opportunities necessary to develop my character as a leader.

“Let us march on ‘til victory is won.”

For my family, Juneteenth was and will always be an important tradition. It’s also a day that allowed us to freely share our God-given gifts, our food, and our culture in a safe space. As the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, it fills me with a sense of pride to celebrate this day annually. It’s a reminder of who we were and all that we have overcome as a people despite the incessant injustices we’ve had to face.

As we prepare to celebrate Juneteenth in 2020, we must all acknowledge anew that the struggle for equality for all Black Americans continues. Juneteenth is not just “Black history,” it’s American history, it’s our history. In the words of James Weldon Johnson who penned the Black National Anthem, “Let us march on ‘til victory is won.”


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