I was late to the party, coming from an area that had no idea of Juneteenth celebrations. Several decades ago, Syracuse had several pioneers who ignited the spark locally, carried the torch celebrating the occasion before Juneteenth became um, cool. This year I’m not feeling very free, like a vintage hygiene commercial; “I just don’t feel very free today”. As if there were a product you could dowse yourself with to eliminate the stench. The commercial voice over, “do you have that not-so-free feeling today? Use new (Insert remedy here).
Look at the American landscape; the racially motivated attack in a Buffalo Tops supermarket, the assault on voting rights in well over 20 States, the selective disregard for Black Law Enforcement; enduring racial epithets being hurled among other things by the January 6th “protestors”. Just look at it! No number of holidays can wipe away the stain of the destruction of Tulsa Oklahoma’s Black Wall Street. Amid the gloom and doom, I saw a glimmer of hope.
The celebration of Juneteenth is an educational tool for white America. This Black History can’t be pigeonholed as Critical Race Theory, as it’s now enshrined in our laws and civic behavior. Juneteenth information was in abundance on all media platforms. At one point even the CBS eye turned red-black-and green. CNN aired a multiple hour-long celebration as companies trotted out their latest raise-our-corporate-fist-in- the-air commercials. Walmart even released a Juneteenth themed ice cream product, the retail behemoth quickly learned, it’s not that kinda party.
What struck me this year, the second year of Juneteenth being a National Holiday is how much information flowed about our history, culture and our journey through this American experiment.
In Syracuse, this meant the Juneteenth Festival was front and center at the steps of City Hall. From the bosom of a Black neighborhood birthed a festival. Juneteenth’s morphed into a vehicle for educating the general public about Black History and its unretractable boondoggle-like relationship with America.
On Sunday evening, after all festivities subsided, the importance of Juneteenth dawned on me when I saw Syracuse Mayor, Ben Walsh at the Blarney Stone; a restaurant located in the traditionally Irish neighborhood of the city, wearing a Juneteenth T-shirt.