Juneteenth

On this date – June 19th – in 1865, Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War in the United States had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was finally bringing the whole of the US in line with the Emancipation Proclamation, enacted 2.5 years beforehand.

The following year Black Americans in Texas came together in an annual celebration that would come to be known as Juneteenth, spreading throughout the South. During the Reconstruction period, as other forms of race-based oppression were established, particularly in the South, the Great Migration began and Black Americans brought Juneteenth celebrations to the cities in the north and west that they migrated to.

Juneteenth is a bittersweet holiday and its popularity has waxed and waned over the years. This is because what was meant to be freedom for Black Americans…wasn’t really. The Reconstruction period was already filled with disappointments before giving way to the Jim Crow era, and it would be almost 100 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed. Since then, mass incarceration, police brutality, the war on drugs and other forms of institutionalised racism have persisted, bringing us through to the Black Lives Matter movement of recent years.

This is the first year that Juneteenth is recognised as a federal holiday in the US. This is a positive step, but for many Black Americans it highlights a tendency toward empty gestures: a well meaning intention by White people to show up, but a lack of persistence and follow through on more impactful change.

Against this backdrop however, Juneteenth is also an opportunity to come together in remembrance and to celebrate Black excellence and Black joy.

Here are some ways we can do this as guests in the Black American art forms that are Blues and Lindy Hop, and as inhabitants of a former colonial power:

  • Learn about Lindy Hop and its history directly from Black dancers in America and Europe (Especially during this COVID pandemic, there are many opportunities to learn via Zoom, for example from the https://www.collectivevoicesforchange.org/ “Have You Met?” series)

  • Reflect on the parallels between the Juneteenth celebration and the way that Blues and Lindy Hop also simultaneously embody Black joy, Black pain and Black excellence

  • Read fiction by Black authors

  • Volunteer for and donate to organisations that support Black people (For something dance-specific, the Black Lindy Hoppers Fund: https://blacklindyhoppersfund.org/)

  • Spend your money at Black-owned businesses

  • Buy music from living Black musicians

  • Follow Black activists on social media (and take some time to sit with the discomfort that some of their posts may provoke in you – for example, https://www.facebook.com/allyhennypage has had some choice words in recent days about Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday against the current political backdrop)

  • Learn more about the UK’s history with slavery (Did you know that when slavery ended in British colonies, compensation was made to former slave owners via the 1837 Slave Compensation Act? Some of this was paid in annuities, the last of which were paid out in 2015)

  • Have a think about things we can do differently when we are able to return to dancing. The Edinbop Committee invites you to share your thoughts and suggestions with us at edinbopwebsite@gmail.com

  • Make your own list of how you would like to celebrate Juneteenth and of the ways small and big that you would like to show up in solidarity with people who experience racism

Thank you to Greg Dyke for writing this post at the request of the Edinbop Committee.