With Liberty and Juneteenth for All…

The origin of Juneteenth - plus a peer-reviewed quick reference guide to #celebrationasresistance

One of Our Greatest Living Americans

The pursuit of a federal holiday for Juneteenth was finally realized last year, its first federal observance in 2021, two days after being signed into law by President Joe Biden. This time, it wasn’t a general on a horse; it was an 89-year-old Black woman on foot. Without the 40 years of persistent efforts by Texas native Ms. Opal Lee — who had her family home burned to the ground by white supremacists when she was 12 years old — Juneteenth would still be seeking to become the most recent federally declared holiday since 1983. That was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In 2016, Ms. Lee, walked from her home in Fort Worth to Washington, D.C. in an effort to bring awareness to her campaign to make Juneteenth a national holiday. In February, 34 members of the United States Congress submitted a letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee to nominate Lee for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. Just last month, Ms. Lee was recognized as “Person of the Year” by Fort Worth Magazine.

Juneteenth is also known as America’s true Independence Day, because the passage of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776 didn’t include Black Americans in the “all men are created equal” part. And we were certainly not party to the “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” part … at least not until June 19th, 1855.

people marching on a street in the city with a sign reading "For Liberty and Juneteenth for All"
Artwork by Marcus Murray

How to Juneteenth (A Quick Reference Guide)

So where does that leave you today, roughly 365 days into a universe where Juneteenth is officially a paid federal holiday? The proud beneficiary of these hard won labor movement gains that leveled the playing field (read: plantation) for workers of all shades, shapes, sizes, sexes, Stars and Stripes? Have no fear, a year ago I collaborated with some BIPOC coworkers of yours to develop a Quick Reference Guide to Juneteenth for employers and employees alike. Feel free to use any or all items on this list for your 2022 Juneteenth Observances … or any of the other 364 days a year when you are feeling a bit questionable (or a bit too comfortable) with the modern day phenomena of Blacks in the workplace.

Happy Juneteenth’ing…

Quick Reference Guide to Juneteenth

  1. Do not say BIPOC (at least not out loud) at Juneteenth. It is a celebration of Black liberation that already is inclusive of the history and legacy of the panoply of Black diasporic experiences. This is our Pride Parade & Picnic; there are enough days on our terribly outdated agrarian calendar for each of our unique freedom anthems to have its day… or its day off. #CelebrateTheHistoryYouDontKnow
  2. After almost 400 years from working for free and/or starvation wages we’ve earned enough back pay to get at least one paid federal holiday each year. Last year the Harvard University Gazette reported the following: “...right now the net wealth of a typical Black family in America is around one-tenth that of a white family.” We are not in the position to speak on behalf of ALL Black folk and say that a paid holiday is some sort of acceptable compromise for reparations. It is not. But it IS a formal acknowledgment and all forms of healing begin with a recognition of harm. Congress did the right thing (insert gratuitous Spike Lee reference) in 2020 by making Juneteenth a federal holiday first observed in 2021. #BlackHolidayGreaterThanBlackFriday
  3. This is the cookout invite you always wanted, never wanted or never knew you wanted! Take advantage. If you’ve never had the good fortune of marrying into a Black family or having a legit Black BEST friend, you might never get a hall pass to witness our rituals of collective self-love and self-care. The horseshoes and the half slab. The dominoes and spades. The pick-up basketball games, uncles vs. cousins. The upside down cake and the bushel of crabs. Loud music, louder laughter. These safe spaces of unbridled Black joy are often exclusive, protected in the tradition of hush harbors and rent parties. We retreat to them many times a year, but on Juneteenth “tha culture” holds an open house. You’re welcome. In some ways it shares similar dynamics to other New Mexican traditions, like feast days and matanzas. It is certainly a ceremony of sorts. #PartyLikeIts1866
  4. This is a party, not a press conference! Please do not show up to Juneteenth to talk our heads off about your activism in the ‘60s, how proud you were to vote for Obama, how fluent you are in pronouncing the name “Kamala,” or how ashamed you were of America during the “dark ages” (2017-2021). There are 364 other days a year you can have THAT conversation with your Black friend (A. If you don’t have one, get one. B. Your coworker is not necessarily your friend.). We came here to eat, drink and be merry. We suggest you do the same. Got questions? The Internet is an amazing resource and couldn’t everyone’s SEO algorithm use just a little more diversity? Do your homework before you come.  Just because you didn’t need an invite to get in doesn’t mean you can’t get disinvited! #FromTheMakersOfBlackTwitter
  5. No Juneteenth celebration near you? No sweat. If you can’t be an honorary Black for the day, buy Black. Support any Black business, local or global, on June 19th! See #2 above to be reminded that taking the shortcut to economic prosperity is what got America cross with its professed values in the first place. You don’t get to go from “brand new country” to the largest military and economy in history without making some compromises. Like climate change, it’s not going to be easy to undo. But as with any behavioral change, it begins one action at a time. #Blackonomics101
  6. While we all love Black History Month (all 28, and sometimes 29 days of it...more on that in another blog), we’ve become accustomed to all the eye rolling and all the sighing in classrooms across the country each and every February. It’s not cute, but neither is our history of struggle and overcoming struggle. Black History Month is about facts. It’s about both correcting and claiming a place in the historical record of this country. Black History Month is both about making history and the historymakers. Juneteenth, however, is about memories and making memories. That’s it. Even for your co-workers and I, it was fuzzy math to think about the exact moment when Juneteenth entered our Black consciousness. For many of us, it was just a family reunion or cookout that took on a different meaning as we came of age. We grew up in it. It grew up with us. When something feels so natural that you barely know it’s there. You’re just in it. You’ve been in it the whole time. But unlike Black History Month, you must leave your guilt at home. It is not welcome here. As Aboriginal artist and activist Lilla Watson once said, “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” #CelebrationAsResistance
  7. Bring your dancing shoes. #DanceLikeNoOneIsWatching (EvenThoughWeMostCertainlyAre)

Special thanks to Fawn Douglass, Jeremy Jasper, Janell Langford & Justin Stucey for sharing their memories, experiences and Quick Reference Guide pointers. Hear them in their own words at the Melan+aid Podcast.

Author Bio: Hakim Bellamy served as Albuquerque’s Inaugural Poet Laureate from 2012 - 2014. Besides poems, he has written and continues to write other things like songs, play scripts, musicals, radio news scripts, short stories, flash fiction, music reviews, book reviews, newspaper articles and blogs, like this! Meet Hakim at www.beyondpoetryink.com.

We the Workplace

I like to think of the Emancipation Proclamation as the Interoffice Memo we never got. At over 700 words it was #TLDNR.

Two Januarys later, the 13th Amendment (the law that made slavery illegal in the United States) crossed the last hurdle in Congress. And even for a country 89 years old at the time… it literally served to document the idiom “Freedom isn’t free.” Apparently, neither was labor nor luck.

It was not until June 19th, 1865, two and a half years after Lincoln’s emancipation and six months before ratification of the 13th … that an Army Colonel, in Texas, had to remind certain “employers” that slaveholding was now somewhat of an illegal enterprise. That work of any color and kind now requires compensation. That human resource would now take on a kindler, gentler connotation.

Gordon Granger, who died a Major General in Santa Fe, New Mexico, made his proclamation in 96 words. I like to think of it as one of those company-wide emails, but on the shorter end … maybe even a longerish tweet. General Order No. 3.

Quite frankly, laws are like Constitutions, hardly worth the parchment they are written on unless they are actually enforced and egalitarian. Like any workplace policy rollout there’s an acclimation period, for those who’ll inevitably say they missed the “memo.” Time for those who’ll say they hadn’t seen, read or heard of the new standard operating procedures. Then, comes the compliance period, that world hereafter when the time to get caught up on all the changes has expired. That’s when the military shows up armed and on horseback at your establishment because two-and-a-half years is more than enough time to evolve said “company culture.”

Law of the Land

The company culture of this country is self-evident in every federal document mentioned thus far. The Emancipation Proclamation directly references work (and war):

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence*; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

The 13th Amendment makes explicit mention of work (read: involuntary servitude) and prison, while General Order No. 3 reclassified us from slave labor to “hired labor” and even offered suggestions (read: stereotypes) on how we should endeavor to conduct ourselves on our personal time.

“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 rights of property 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.”

Tropes concerning what Black people do during non-work hours persist ‘til this very day, however the one about idleness never made much sense to me. We essentially built the infrastructure and cultivated the wealth of this country for its first 90 years of existence by working 24/7 for what was the equivalent of livestock level room and board. Doesn’t exactly suggest “lazy” to me, however, as one could imagine, the “let out” was last-day-of-school spectacular.

*As spelled in the original document.

illustration of a kid wearing a floaty with a Meow Wolf creature on it about to jump into a pool with a pizza and other kids floating

The People’s Party

The advent of newfound leisure time (ultimately thanks to common sense human rights and labor law) was understandably cause for celebration, the kind that is only made possible by time and money … two things we never had before. In 1866, on the one year anniversary of Granger’s order in Galveston, TX, Black churches began holding what would become annual commemorative gatherings designed to serve as a reminder to future generations of what it might feel like … to get word that your life as you know it, is about to be forever changed. For the better, in fact. 96 words to be exact.

Modeled on the kind of celebration one might expect upon arrival in heaven, the church folk took to calling it Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Liberation Day, and Freedom Day. Now, most commonly known as Juneteenth, it is no stretch to imagine that a heavenly homecoming presents a lot like the Black Family Reunions here on earth, ancestors y todo. I like to think of Juneteenth as a contraction of sorts, a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth,” purposely omitting the apostrophe. Punctuating the fact that apostrophes indicate possession or the omission of numbers and letters (and in some cases, the omission of people).

person with a QDOT logo on the sleeve laughing while flipping burgers on a grill and Plotzo the Rat and a person holding a plate standing nearby with a lake in the background

It is fitting that some communities, like Las Vegas, NV, celebrate the birthday of Tupac Amaru Shakur (June 16th) alongside Juneteenth Celebrations. The turn up at the picnic is akin to at least two of the late rapper's music videos turned wedding receptions with the perpetual line dance being the Humpty Hump. California Love meets I Wonder If Heaven Gotta Ghetto… and by “ghetto” he meant paradise… and by “paradise” we mean a place where we can belong with no judgment, just Juneteenth.

Artwork by Marcus Murray