Past Is Prologue

How to Honor Black Liberation on Juneteenth

This holiday demands a deep engagement with American history and anti-Black oppression. Anything less is an insult.

Collette Watson
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readJun 15, 2020
Credit: champc/iStock/Getty Images Plus

I was born on June 19, 1982. My birthday falls on the Black liberation holiday known as “Juneteenth,” a fact that has always felt inspiring and meaningful to me.

Now, on the eve of my 38th Juneteenth, uprisings against racism are sweeping the globe, sparked by the video of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. We are witnessing an unprecedented reckoning as protestors take to the streets.

In response, people and organizations are scrambling to appear on the right side of history. Statements of solidarity are flying out like hotcakes, and some have identified Juneteenth as a day to perform their solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

The impulse of solidarity is great. But, a word of caution: While performative displays like “Soul Food Day” in the cafeteria may feel good, the Juneteenth holiday demands a much deeper engagement with the history and systems of anti-Black oppression. Anything less is an insult.

The real story of Juneteenth

Here are the historical details, compiled with help from Phoenix-based media pioneer Art Mobley:

  • June 19, 1865, marked the day that the last Black people held in bondage were finally released and set free from American slavery. The emancipation of the majority of other enslaved people had occurred over two years earlier with the Emancipation Proclamation, dated January 1, 1863.
  • Texas authorities had deliberately withheld compliance and information on emancipation until this day.
  • Juneteenth saw the last of the nation’s enslaved people walking free of the plantation concentration camps, no longer held against their will.
  • The spirit of Juneteenth is embodied in what happened next: African people immediately began to look for lost and separated family. They walked from plantation to plantation, gathering loved ones in reunification and somber celebration. Those celebrations became the holy day of…



Collette Watson
Human Parts

Visions of a different world. Emboldened by my mothers.