For many, Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom; June 19 commemmorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas received word they were free, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. For historian Kellie Carter Jackson, the weight of that two-year delay is what sticks with her every year.
On Friday, the first observance of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, Jackson told Boston Public Radio she's concerned that Juneteenth's elevation in this moment may undermine the historic nature of the day.
"It's important that while we have the barbecues, the parades, the face painting, and all the things that go along with joy and celebrations ... also acknowledge there was a two-year delay," she said. "Both of those can be held in the same space."
Jackson noted that the creation of a federal Juneteenth holiday comes amid conservative attacks on critical race theory and teachings on the enduring legacy of slavery.
"(The holiday) feels very symbolic, but it doesn't feel very substantive," she said. "It doesn't feel that way because so many states ... are banning critical race theory without really undrestanding what critical race theory is."
As Jackson wrote in a recent piece for the Atlantic, critical race theory is an academic movement that seeks to critically examine the social, political, and economic impact of racism and white supremacy in America.
Republicans and conservatives at all levels of government are trying to block curriculum that teaches the enduring legacy of slavery and institutional racism in America.
Jackson referred to an analogy her husband brought to her, when considering how to respond to resistance to confront the lasting and structural effects of racism.
"When he was training to become a lifeguard, they said if someone is drowning and they're bigger than you, don't try to save them, they could drown you too, they could take you down in their panic and in their fear," she said. "Let them drown, and then you can save them and then you can rescuscitate them."
"What is happening now in this very post-Trump era is a lot of white people feel like they are drowning, and they are panicking ... at the idea of a Juneteenth, at the idea of progress," she said. "My hope is that when the time comes we can do the work of rescsucitating these people but I am not willing to go down in the mud, in the dirt, in the deep waters, and have them drown me."
Kellie Carter Jackson is an assistant professor of Africana studies at Wellesley College, and the author of Force and Freedom: Black Abolitionists and the Politics of Violence.