A Teachable Moment: Juneteenth Offers The Nation Lessons On Black America And Equality | St. Louis Public Radio

A Teachable Moment: Juneteenth Offers The Nation Lessons On Black America And Equality

Jun 18, 2020

For generations, June 19 has been a day of celebration of heritage and liberation for many African Americans. Family and community gatherings across the nation, particularly in the South, commemorate the day when enslaved people in Texas learned they were free

As the nation enters a new era in the struggle for equality during weeks of protests aimed at stopping police from killing black people, Juneteenth celebrations are taking on greater significance, said Sowandé Mustakeem, an associate professor of history and Africa and African American studies at Washington University. 

“We are sitting in a turbulent time in a changing world with so many moving parts,” Mustakeem said. “And in that regard, Juneteenth becomes an affirmation of blackness all over again by celebrating it and all of us — the revolution, the changes, but also the beauty.”

With the growing interest in African American history and culture, Juneteenth is becoming a teachable moment. Many cities and companies have declared the day a paid holiday for employees. Some company owners want their workers to use the holiday to reflect on injustices and the history of black people. 

Mustakeem said there’s always been another side to the American story, and when more white people start to uncover black history, the nation can start to have deeper conversations about slavery and its legacy.

Celebrations occur all over the United States for Juneteenth. Though the early celebrations of "Freedom Day" started off as religious ceremonies and family gatherings, Sowandé Mustakeem said now it's really just about understanding where and how blackness has been a central part of the fabric of American society and how black people can achieve equality.
Credit Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau

On June 19, 1865, a troop of Union Army soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced to the nation’s last enslaved people that they were free. President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier.

For years, formerly enslaved people celebrated Juneteenth with jubilees, religious ceremonies and oral storytelling. Since then, the African American holiday also known as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day,” has evolved into music festivals, family reunions, cook-offs and parades.

A few years ago, La Patisserie Chouquette bakery shop owner Simone Faure started using Juneteenth as a day of education for her employees. She cooked for them and taught them about the history behind the type of foods black people ate during the celebration. 

For the second year in a row, the African American baker is using her Tower Grove bakery shop to educate the public about Juneteenth. She is selling Juneteenth boxes filled with sweet potato pone, red velvet cake and other baked goods, which to Faure all have significance. The box will include a brief history of Juneteenth.

Faure said it seems as if with all the protests for racial justice, people are now waking up to wanting to learn about black history, and that is why she uses her food as activism.

“It [food] can be used as a weapon,” Faure said. “Food has so many uses, it's not just nourishing our bodies, but it should be nourishing our spirit, our mind, our souls.”

Listen: Local Juneteenth parade organizer Coffee Wright and Calvin Riley Jr., director of the George B. Vashon Museum, join host "St. Louis on the Air" host Sarah Fenske to talk about the holiday's origins and commemoration of it. 

Simone Faure of La Patisserie Chouquette said she hopes her Juneteenth boxes will be shared among family and friends and provide a history lesson as well.
Credit Provide by Simone Faure

While Faure uses her food to tell the story of black people, St. Louis activist Arkayla Tenney-Howard uses her voice to make change. She has been protesting for the past few weeks on the front lines to end police brutality and for racial justice.   

Tenney-Howard said Juneteenth will be a special holiday for black people this year because of all of the pain black people have endured for the past few months. She also thinks the celebration will be a day of encouragement and inspiration to help black people continue the fight for equality. 

“We've watched two pandemics wreak havoc on our community, both COVID-19 and racism. And now it’s just the time to be together, to understand one another, to unify and to celebrate how far we've come and how far we're going to make it,” Tenney-Howard said. “I believe that we are in a time of great potential. We have the potential to create real change in America.”

Related Event

What: Juneteenth Rolling Rally Gas Up
When: 2 p.m. Saturday, June 27, 2020
Where: Beckett Park, St. Louis, MO 63113 

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Our priority is you. Support coverage that’s reliable, trustworthy and more essential than ever. Donate today.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org