In Reverence of Juneteenth
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which most of us are taught was the end of slavery in the United States. What we were taught, however, is not entirely true. The end of slavery did not actually arrive until June 19, 1865. This day marked the beginning of the celebration we know as Juneteenth.
I first learned of Juneteenth when I was 12 years old. I was living in Fort Sill, a United States Army base adjacent to the city of Lawton, Oklahoma. My mother had taken my sister and I to the mall, and as were leaving, we noticed what looked like a small parade happening near the parking lot. I saw signs with “Juneteenth” written on them and people dancing with red, black, and green flags. I immediately became curious and enamored with this small group of proud Black people celebrating and having so much fun.
After that day, I made it a point to research and learn everything I could about Juneteenth. I learned that it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that slaves in Texas were finally told that they were free. I even learned about how the Freedmen’s Bureau was also established in 1865, to provide resources for the newly freed people. This bit of history led me on a quest into my adulthood to make sure that I learned about African American history, my history, whether it was taught in schools or not.
The culmination of this quest happened when I, along with three close friends I met while attending North Carolina Central University School of Law, decided to start our own law firm. Our decision was rooted in the realization that there were major deficiencies when it came to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession, as we often found ourselves to be the only Black faces in offices full of attorneys. These deficiencies presented themselves in ways that had a negative impact on the work environment and the ways in which BIPOC clients were represented. We named our firm the Freedmen Law Group, out of reverence to the Freedmen’s Bureau. We also decided to launch our firm on June 19, Juneteenth, to highlight its cultural significance, and to send the message that we are committed to providing resources to our community to promote equality. This year we celebrate our four year anniversary at a time when the United States has passed legislation to finally recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
I lived in Oklahoma for another two or three years after that day at the mall, and I can’t recall ever seeing that small Juneteenth celebration again. To this day, I don’t know whether it was an official celebration, or if those proud Black people just decided to get together and celebrate. Either way, what I witnessed that day instilled within me a sense of pride that I’ve carried with me ever since.