Harlem Mural Art - Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

Juneteenth: A Dream Still Deferred?

As another year rolls around and we embark on another summer the time has come again to recognize Juneteenth. I wanted to write a piece for Juneteenth, but I did not want it to be another repetitive monologue that only focuses on the history of the holiday. While I do believe a brief history lesson is important for context, the conversation cannot stop there. I hope to continue the conversation by offering my own personal reflections and provide a path for us all to support one another this upcoming holiday. I want to give a special thanks to my good friend, Loren Taylor, for encouraging me to write this piece.

Kansas State University Graduation w/ Loren Taylor
Kansas State University Doctoral Graduation, 2018

What is Juneteenth?

On January 1st, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War, declaring all slaves in the Confederate states were officially free. During the Civil War, slaveholders migrated to Texas and took their slaves with them to escape the prominent warzones and battle sites. Geographically, Texas was mostly isolated from Civil War sites, and because the news moved slowly over a great distance, slaves in Texas had no knowledge of the Emancipation Proclamation or General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army's surrender. Thus, these slaves were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. On June 18th, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger went down to Texas, and on June 19th, in Galveston, Texas, he read the General Order No. 3, which announced the emancipation of these unfreed slaves. Roughly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, approximately 250,000 additional slaves were finally freed, and upon hearing this news they rejoiced and celebrated in the streets of Texas. The following year, the newly freed people organized the first celebration of Juneteenth in Texas.
Juneteenth is a portmanteau of 'June' and 'nineteenth,' and today Juneteenth is celebrated as Black Independence Day, or a day of freedom, where our local communities come together in fellowship to share food, Black art, music, dance, games, and other pieces of Black culture and the history of Juneteenth. On June 17th, 2021 President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law; declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Personal Reflection of Revisionist History

Despite Juneteenth being considered the longest running African American holiday, it is not a day I learned about in the public school sector. Outside of the 20 days that we spent learning about the same hand-selected prominent Black figures and historical moments year after year, I had limited exposure to any sort of history that would remotely come close to being related to Juneteenth. However, as a 4th grader living in Virginia, we spent the entire academic year in Social Studies class learning about the state's history.

Fast forward through the excitement of learning that Jamestown, Virginia was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, we learned all about the the peaceful and justified expansion of the English throughout the 13 original colonies. Leading into the Civil War, we were taught to believe that the Confederate Army was to be respected and revered. I recall being emotionally pulled in many different directions, going back and forth between victory and defeat as each battle fiercely progressed; like a fanboy cheering on my favorite sports team in the heat of the battle. Upon learning that the home team ultimately surrendered and lost the war, even while drowning in my sorrows of defeat, what happened next is one of the most vivid memories that I still hold from that entire academic year. Our teacher stood up in front of a room full of 4th graders and told us to our face that once freed, newly freed slaves happily chose to become indentured servants for the next 7 years because indentured servitude was their best option for a successful and fulfilling life. Favor and grace was being extended toward a group of people who now donned the newly acquired status of indentured servant.

Many people may formally term this experience as 'miseducation,' but I would go as far as to say this is 'intentional systemic malpractice' in the education system. This exact instance is only one of many examples as to why it is frightening to witness so many present-day states moving to pass legislation banning Critical Race Theory; essentially prohibiting K-12 public schools from instruction related to the reality that racism is systemically embedded in American society and the American legal system to intensify and reinforce racial inequality. Failure to teach what was reality, and what continues to be reality, in an attempt to ignore, cover up, save face, and profit from Black culture and community, in my strongly informed opinion, is intentional systemic malpractice; but I digress.

I did not think about it much at the time. I really just remember going on field trips and running around and playing in the streets of Jamestown and exploring Williamsburg and visiting historical colonial buildings and houses. At that time, little did I know...

I want to be careful and clearly express that this is my own personal experience looking back at what took place in that classroom many years ago. I learned about Virginia's state history, which translates to 'I learned about slavery through a neo-Confederate lens.' This is not meant to be a shot at Virginia (I love and deeply miss my friends and family there, and I often reminisce on the good times we spent together) but a moment to address a severely flawed system. Also, I never talked about these experiences with any of my peers of the time, and I never really spoke to anyone about these experiences. All that to say I do not want my narrative to be the mouthpiece of an entire cohort of 4th graders as I speak my own personal experiences. However, I do sometimes wonder if I was the only one in that classroom that felt this way...

A New Perspective and a Path Forward

A few days ago I was having a conversation with a close friend that was completely unrelated to Juneteenth. It was a short conversation in a greater context, but we landed on Harlem (New York City, New York) as a talking point. As he was the one to first mention Harlem, I asked him what was the first thing that came to mind when he thought about Harlem. He replied, "Langston Hughes; what happens to a dream deferred?" and how he hoped that the Harlem Renaissance brought up a lot of space for Black expression. That brief conversation was the spark I needed to write this piece.

Harlem (also known as A Dream Deferred) is a short, yet powerful, poem by American poet, activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist Langston Hughes that provides reference to the Black experience of segregation and unequal opportunity. I hope that you take the time to read the full poem and check out a detailed analysis if you are interested in understanding more about the impact of this piece and what happens when dreams are delayed.

Juneteenth brings up many conflicting feelings and emotions for me. On one hand, I am proud of my people and excited for the opportunity to celebrate Black Independence Day. On the other hand, there is a sore that festers while we continue to suffer from injustice and experience oppression; while we struggle with social and economic inequity; while we still remain unsupported and underrepresented in diverse industries at multiple levels. While some people hold the belief that we are currently living in a post-racial society this is sadly not the case. However, as a collective whole, we can take steps toward making a change and doing better. We can use Juneteenth as a time to recognize the systemic struggles of our colleagues, friends, and neighbors and recognize that we are all still navigating the sins of our past. Juneteenth also gives us the opportunity to take progressive action for our friends, our families, our communities, our children, and for ourselves.

Change is Good, But Where Do I Start?

8 out of every 10 Black-owned establishments fail within the first 18 months as a result of unique economic, market, sociocultural, and institutional barriers. These barriers hinder Black entrepreneurs’ access to starting capital, expertise, services, valuable relationships, and business networks. I could provide you with a list of articles, videos, movies, podcasts, and other tools and resources to educate yourself on the history of Juneteenth and Black culture, but I trust that you are fully capable of locating those resources and doing that work on your own. Instead, how about we support one another until our dreams are no longer deferred?

*Here is a list of Black-owned businesses and establishments that I know would greatly appreciate your support:

  • Jasmine's Vision Scholarship Fund is a scholarship fund aiding young Black women facing socio-economic hardships achieve their goal of higher education
  • Black Face White Space empowers Black individuals to thrive and succeed in their professional lives
  • SPGBK Watches is a designer watch company that provides an amazing variety of impactful, unique, and colorful watches
  • SR-Apparel is a modern clothing and apparel brand
  • Clean Design Home is a luxury allergen-aware lifestyle brand committed to wellness and sustainability that begins in the home
  • Kindred Spirit Candle Company is a studio-based candle company providing unique in-home scents and fragrances
  • Hazel Creations is an upscale crafts establishment bringing creativity and personalization to handmade gifts
  • Just Heaven Leigh LLC is an extravagant bakery fulfilling personalized decorative cakes, cupcakes, and so much more
  • mjheart is a gamer, twitch streamer, and mental health therapist passionate about self-care, planning, emotional wellness, and anti-oppression
  • The Vibe Lounge NC provides an unapologetic atmosphere; blatant mannerism with charismatic poise
  • The Melanin Box Cultural Directory is your certified directory guide in finding top certified small businesses and entrepreneurs

Also, be sure to check out our Black History Project; where each item shares a little piece of Black history. Each item in this collection is limited and exclusive, and they will not restock once sold out!

Black History Project

Let us know down in the comments any thoughts, emotions, reactions, or questions that came up for you while reading this post. Also, let us know how you plan on spending your Juneteenth!

*note: All views expressed in this post are my own and not a direct endorsement of the businesses and establishments mentioned above.


  • Denzel Jones, PhD

    Hi Dr. P! It is good to hear from you. Thank you for your kind words, your trust in me, and for being a trusted, respected, and supportive person in my life on this journey. I often think about the moments and stories that we’ve shared and how that shapes who I am today; so thank you for everything. Also, that is amazing! I hope that you are able to capture that moment as I imagine it will be a good one to remember. Take care.

  • Denzel Jones, PhD

    Hi Monique. Thank you for your comment and story regarding your experience! I am glad to hear that you had a positive experience, and it is encouraging to know that there are teachers out there who are shaping the minds and identities of our youth in positive and constructive ways. I hope that we continue to hear more stories like this going forward. Thanks.

  • Terry Pfannenstiel,PhD

    Hi Denzel. Your message is refreshing and vital to all. I always knew you would make a mark when you left K state and you have proven me right. I trust you will go on to do much more. By the way, my 17 year old grandson, Cooper, has been chosen to sing the national anthem at the Juneteenth celebration in Manhattan! Take care.

  • Monique

    Very well spoken! I love this entry in your blog. I remember 4th grade history oh so well and I’m grateful I had a teacher who shared with us as much as she could and even made me feel comfortable talking about it

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