For Black Americans, Juneteenth (also known as “Independence Day” and “Black Independence Day”) is a joyous and solemn day because it honors the day of June 19, 1865, when many enslaved people in Texas learned they were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. Why did it take almost two and one-half years for enslaved Black people to learn of their freedom? Because white supremacist traitors were still in open rebellion against the United States, and they had used an effective misinformation campaign, including what we nowadays call “fake news,” to claim that the Confederacy was winning the Civil War. However, facts are stubborn things and we all know how the war turned out. Black America celebrates this defeat of the traitors and their criminal way of life, by hosting celebrations around the United States that honor their Black ancestors and the pain they endured, as well as their resilience and hope in the face of hundreds of years of white supremacists’ oppression. In 2020, 46 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth either as a formal or ceremonial holiday. Why? Because Black liberation cannot be denied.
This year’s Juneteenth holiday has gotten a lot of news coverage because President Donald J. Trump had originally scheduled a campaign rally for that day in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of a white supremacist terrorist riot against the city’s Black residents in 1921. Tulsa, furthermore, has a special place in the hearts of Black Americans because, despite white people’s concerted efforts against it, the city was home to “Black Wall Street,” one of the nation’s most vibrant Black business communities. The fact that Tulsa’s Black community had produced such a monumental achievement, in fewer than six decades after the Civil War, is a testament to its entrepreneurial spirit and strong social cohesion. Importantly, this achievement was obvious to the city’s white community, which had grown envious, jealous, and resentful of the Black community’s prosperity. So when a Black man was accused of assaulting a white teenage girl, white supremacists, including men deputized by the Tulsa police department, used it as a pretext to kill countless numbers of Black citizens, burn and loot their homes and businesses, and drive thousands more from the city. Prior to 2020, most white Americans had never heard of the so-called “Tulsa Race Riot.” Why? Because there was a news blackout at the time, and white Americans have rarely shown interest in learning about events that challenge the myth of “American exceptionalism.” But 2020 is a different time. Black America has led the massive public outcry and condemnation against President Trump’s scheduled #MAGA rally, which has since been rescheduled for a later date. Why? Because Black liberation cannot be denied.
As historians of the Black Liberation Movement, we study the past to learn about the people and events, signals and cries, utterances and whispers from Black America. These sources help us better understand where our nation has been, and where it needs to be if people truly want to live in a democratic nation. Another key finding of our decades of research and scholarship is that white supremacy is a feature—not a bug—in our nation’s design. Thus, we have to pay close attention to the ways in which people reinforce and perpetuate it in society, the economy, and the political system, and how white supremacy creates so many forms of violence in our lives. One example of this is state violence carried out by law enforcement officers against Black people. White supremacists, and their racist sympathizers, some of whom are elected and appointed officials, support this violence, and they employ the rhetoric of “law and order” to hide their true agenda, which is to roll back human rights gains fought for and won by Black Americans. Nevertheless, Black people continue to remind this nation that unless they are free, no one is free. Now we see significantly large numbers of people—from all other racial groups—agreeing with Black people. Just as the white supremacists who fought against Black liberation during the Civil War, and destroyed Black Tulsa, Oklahoma, today’s white supremacists employ the tactic of terror to thwart Black people’s human rights. They win some of these battles, but they’ll never win their war against human rights. Why? Because Black liberation cannot be denied.