What Does Juneteenth Mean in 2022?

Being African American, you can celebrate and experience many traditions. One bit of folklore that I remember and still practice is attending the church service on New Year’s Eve (or what is commonly known as “Watch Night Service”). For many years, I knew I had to be on my knees at midnight, thanking God for bringing me to the end of the year, and praying for his protection in the New Year. Later on, I learned this is what my ancestors were doing the night before they became free by way of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.  Even now, when my family kneels together and the pastor proclaims, “Watchman, Watchman, what is the hour of the night!”, I feel a sense of anticipation, humility, and fear, and the knowledge that I am no one’s slave! So, while my ancestors in the South eagerly awaited their freedom with supplication, the slaves in Galveston, Texas remained uniformed about their freedom for a full two years after it was granted. 

Can you imagine the hopes and dreams of the slaves in Texas? One can envision their thoughts: ‘What would it be like to break every one of these chains?’, ‘What would it feel like to run, to see the end of the road, to see what could my life be like,’ or, ‘What would it be like to be me…to be called by my name, not the name Massa gave me, or to be able to sing, not to groan or moan like a wounded animal, to use my hands to build for me and my family…’ 

Freedom is liberty from the constraints of society, having autonomy to do what you want, and  independence to be… While African Americans currently still struggle to obtain absolute freedom, we have come this far by faith. It is the same faith that was practiced by our ancestors on the Eve of Emancipation, and the patience to wait on the word in Texas that held them, while praying for you and me. 

So, celebrate the fact they got the word of freedom. Break the physical and mental chains that enslave us, and become the dream. Sing, dance, and honor those who kept their hopes high  and utilized their freedom, who enabled us to rejoice in jubilee and reclaim our freedom now and forever more. 

This declaration is dedicated to my ancestors from the low country of South Carolina, the prayer warriors in Galveston, Texas, to elders around the world, and to those who chose to be buried in the sea. Your dream is not forgotten. 

Shonnell Flournoy