By Shanna Fraites (she/her/hers)
Member, UC Davis Health African American Faculty and Staff Association (AAFSA) Employee Resource Group
Everyone is familiar with Martin Luther King Jr. and his famous “I Have a Dream” speech that took place on August 28th, 1963 where he delivered the famous words – “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation…It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity…But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination…”
The Emancipation Proclamation was, declared by Abraham Lincoln and indicated that on January 1st, 1863 all enslaved people “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” What all the enslaved people did not know was that this only pertained to those who were enslaved within the Confederacy and not those states who remained loyal to the Union.
On June 19th, 1865 (900 days later) federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas where they took control of the state to ensure that all 250,000 enslaved people were freed. Emancipation unfortunately did not happen overnight, and Texans waited until after harvest season. However, once the news finally spread celebrations broke out among the newly freed people and Juneteenth was born.
As we all know, none of these “successes” granted black people the freedom they deserved or were promised. We had to fight for years for basic civil rights in this country – from simple rights to sit wherever we wanted on a bus or restaurants to greater rights such as owning land and businesses. I recently I went out to a few black-owned businesses in the Sacramento area and asked, “What does Juneteenth mean to you and how has it shaped you as a black owned business?” Here are some of their responses:
- Momo’s Meat Market (Broadway Plaza) – “Juneteenth means justice and freedom written in stone for all generations to embrace.”
- Glow & Glam Boutique - “Emancipation of ‘freedom’ but not slavery. With that being said, this is what shaped us to be our own business owners and boss.”
- Burgess Brothers – “As fifth-generation descendants of former enslaved family members, the Burgess’ can only reflect on how our great-great and great grandfathers/grandmothers felt. And what they must have endured being enslaved in the South and then brought to the North! We believe what Walsh wrote in a recent article published by Harvard Graduate School of Education about 'The Meaning of Juneteenth' and how it must have rung true for our enslaved family members, — 'the realities of slavery tormented free Blacks living in the North' (2021). Our great-great-grandfather was sold several times in the South, and our family history has oral narratives, and documented speculation from a historian that he purchased his freedom once he came to California. Although California was a part of the Union that denounced slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865, there was still evidence of oppression and inequality for Blacks in the North. Therefore, we can only speculate the jubilee our ancestors may have experienced, knowing they were finally free from a life of indentured servitude. Yet, understanding there was still much more work to be done to move the wheels of justice forward.
In light of the racial climate in the United States and abroad, we are committed to celebrating the contributions, achievements, accomplishments, and historical holidays that recognize, honor, and uplift the legacy of Black Indigenes People of Color (BIPOC); which is remarkably etched with courage and resilience.
The Burgess Brothers are inspired by history, knowing that our family was among one of the first Black Pioneer families in California during the gold rush era. Therefore, we are excited to announce that we have formed the African American Gold Rush (AAGR) Association. The AAGR Association is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization seeking to share untold stories of BIPOC history that were removed, marginalized, and suppressed from California’s history. Hopefully, this time next year, the AAGR Association will host its own Juneteenth celebration!
Please visit the AAGR Association website to see how you can help support our efforts to bring this vision into a reality!”
Despite all these years later and how far we’ve come, it seems that we cannot escape the negative connotation of what was placed on us when we were brought here all those years ago. ‘Black’ is still looked at as a negative term and black people are still looked at as less than, even all these years later. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary paints a clear picture –
- Characterized by hostility or angry discontent.
- Distorted or darkened by anger.
- Indicative of condemnation or discredit.
- Thoroughly sinister or evil: WICKED
- Having the color of new snow or milk.
- Free from blemish.
- Favorable, fortunate.
- Notably ardent: PASSIONATE
We did not receive our freedom on July 4th, 1776. It took 89 years for us to receive our freedom on Juneteenth and we are still fighting. We must continue to come together as a community and help others see that we are more than what their ancestors made us out to be. We are resilient, passionate, intelligent, and determined people. Let’s take this Juneteenth to celebrate us and remember where we were, how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go. Let’s not forget to reach out to one another and ask, “Are you okay?” “Do you need help?” and let’s all be willing to accept the help. Take advantage of the resources you have at hand, and if you do not know what resources you have, ask, or reach out to your fellow colleague, neighbor, or friend.
Always remember - "Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation."- Coretta Scott King, human rights activist and leader.