‘Remember why’: IUPUI professor reflects on new federal holiday, Juneteenth

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Sometimes called Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day or Freedom Day, Juneteenth is a combination of June and 19th. It’s a day of celebration and reverence.

On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, from the Union Army, rode to Galveston, Texas, and announced slavery and the Civil War were over. But that was two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that legally freed millions of enslaved people.

“Two years would mean that they had worked two harvests, as it were. This was a place where you did cotton. Texas had cotton; that was one of their crops. So this idea, that now this new thing has happened to you, you’re a free person, is … the value of it, I’m certain, is what we see in the celebration, this joy,” said Leslie Etienne, director of the Africana Studies Program at IUPUI.

For decades, African Americans have celebrated and remembered Juneteenth.

“I think the remembrance part of it is the most important piece. The remembrance. I think the value of joy — Black joy — is something that we have to consider. Also for us to critically interrogate conditions, for us to critically interrogate the contemporary conditions,” Etienne said.

Etienne says today, there is far more knowledge about Juneteenth.

“I think it becoming a federal holiday or the push for it to become a federal holiday speaks volumes in the sense that there has to be an understanding of what these conditions were, and the lasting effects of them, in the sense that there has to be an understanding of what these conditions were and the lasting effects of them. I think with that, though, there has to be care to not colloquialize. To not make this something that’s just a day off. To remember the history and remember why you even have to celebrate Juneteenth in the first place,” Etienne said.

Etienne encourages people to do their own research and learn about Juneteenth.

He said he hopes people understand “that you cannot obfuscate the reality of a critical history such as this. That it is fine to celebrate, but also this idea that we must remember, has to be in this conversation. It can’t just be a BBQ. There’s more to the context to a holiday such as this.”

There are also events around town, including:

At noon Friday, a community peace walk will take off from the Edna Martin Christian Centers Leadership and Legacy campus. In celebration of Juneteenth, the peace walk will bring people together to protest systemic racism and promote peace.

And from 5-9 p.m. Friday at Martin University, a community-wide Juneteenth event will launch the National Center for Racial Equity and Inclusion. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Randal Taylor have been invited.