Six Black Women on the Meaning of Juneteenth


Leave it to Texas to pretend they didn’t hear that slavery was over. While the Emancipation Proclamation was passed in 1863, the then-still border state of Texas was like, “What? No, uh-uh. We don’t know her.” On June 19, 1865, though, Union troops arrived in Galveston to take control of the state and make sure that all enslaved people were freed. That day became Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the official abolishment of slavery. A holiday for us—for Black folks.

One hundred and fifty years later it’s now a commercial holiday—used in brand campaigns and Walmart’s failed ice cream—and I feel ambivalent about that. What’s to prevent it from turning into another MLK Day or Black History Month, both of which feel more like lip service as opposed to an actual appreciation of what we’re meant to be commemorating? I mean, this is America: How can we trust the country built on the backs of Black folks—a country that continues to be as happy-pants racist as it wants to be—to honor the day we got free?

So, yes, I have questions and concerns about Juneteenth, but I also really wanted to find a way to commemorate it in a meaningful way. I decided to talk to a group of brilliant Black women—writers, creatives, and artists—to offer some perspective on the holiday.

First, about that commercialization. Do you think it has undermined the historical value of Juneteenth for Black folks in America? 

“Juneteenth will remain a significant holiday—because of its symbolic meaning and historical legacy—regardless of recent commercialization efforts. We live in a capitalist society, which means that we can almost always expect companies to exploit holidays—and just about anything—to yield a profit. Plus, it is certainly easier for companies to sell goods and services than to find concrete ways to redress past harms or address current discriminatory practices. Still, I am encouraged by the swift public response when companies go too far. It’s a reminder that we can play a key role in demanding better from those that drop the ball.”

–Dr. Keisha N. Blain, professor Africana studies and history at Brown University 

What would be the best possible reason for the hashtag Juneteenth to go viral? 

“The best reason for #Juneteenth to go viral [would be] Black Americans actually receiving meaningful reparations for the enslavement of our ancestors, because we know that will not happen in 2022. The second best reason for #Juneteenth to go viral [would be] the announcement that the rich history of Black Americans since they were brought to these shores in bondage, will be taught in schools. No longer just a paragraph about Martin Luther King and how enslaved Africans were akin to migrant workers, all students would learn how we built this country. I don’t see that happening either, so how about #Juneteenth goes viral because all Black people get the Friday closest to June 19th off from work? Just us.”

–April Reign, equity and inclusion advocate, and creator of #OscarsSoWhite


What is the single most important thing to get right about Juneteenth as a journalist?

“Journalists should speak of Juneteenth as an ‘is’ instead of a ‘was.’ It’s not a siloed moment of history. What it represents—the willfully delayed emancipation of Black people—speaks directly to this perilous time and the denial of our rights. It must also be framed within the context of anti-CRT/American history laws that will gut the significance of Juneteenth by erasing from libraries and classrooms the nearly 250 years of chattel slavery that preceded it.”

–Renée Graham, journalist and opinion columnist for the Boston Globe 

What’s funny about Juneteenth? 

“It’s ‘hilarious’ that we finally have a national holiday to celebrate our freedom, yet we’re still not truly free.”

–Yvette Nicole Brown, actress (Big Shot) and TV host

If you were making a playlist called Juneteenth, what 10 songs would be on it?  

Alright – Kendrick Lamar

A Chance to Say My Piece – Taylor McFerrin

Formation – Beyoncé

This Is America – Childish Gambino

My People…Hold On – Eddie Kendricks

Can You See? – Madison McFerrin

Every Nigga Is a Star – KeiyaA

Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud – James Brown

Post Black Anyway – THEESatisfaction

Baltimore – Nina Simone

–Madison McFerrin, singer/songwriter


Why is Juneteenth important to you as a mother? 

“Black history is American history. But in our house, what I tell my daughter is that Black history is also a master class in hope. To me, Juneteenth matters because it says: ‘Keep going, the future you want is coming.’”

–Veronica Chambers, editor of narrative projects at The New York Times, and author of Shirley Chisholm is a Verb

Rainesford Stauffer
Rebecca Carroll is a writer, cultural critic, and podcast creator/host. Her writing has been published widely, and she is the author of several books, including her recent memoir, Surviving the White Gaze. Rebecca is Editor at Large for The Meteor.