NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Juneteenth celebrations mark a historic day for black Americans around the country. Friday makes it 155 years since slaves in Texas and much of the South discovered they were free.
At Percy Priest Lake, host Joe Major organized a Juneteenth celebration that went beyond anything he could ever have imagined. Hundreds of people packed the waterfront lot, cooking for one another and simply enjoying a break.
What may surprise some is for how well the holiday has been embraced in black communities, it wasn’t long ago that many of the people in the park were learning about Juneteenth for the first time.
“It wasn’t taught in school. It wasn’t something that my family was really big on or discussed. It was mentioned, but I didn’t really see the importance of it until about three years ago,” said Chanel Williams.
Williams and some of her classmates from Tennessee State University say they’ve all traveled from various parts of the country to attend a historically black college. For them, they only learned about Juneteenth when they arrived. They’ve since adopted the celebration as their own with t-shirts reading “Free-ish since 1865.” The same year slaves in Texas were first told they were free.
A full two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect.
Ever since that day, black people around the country in small or big gatherings recognize this as an unofficial independence day.
“I feel like for so long we’ve put a lot of emphasis and importance on the 4th of July without celebrating our people and our heritage and our culture of being free,” said Williams.
With the holiday landing on a weekend, Williams and her friends say the next step is to support local black-owned businesses.
“The whole weekend we’ve been shopping and eating at black-owned companies. Making sure that our money is being put in our communities,” said Akyra McCray.
James Turner, candidate for State Representative District 52 says for him the goal was to help others understand the power of their vote.
“We know we have work to do, we know legislations need to be passed. We need to go out and vote and change leadership around America, around the state and locally,” said Turner.
He continues to add that while Juneteenth should be considered a time for celebration, it’s also a reflection on the past we should all choose to honor.
“You can call it a celebration, we call it remembering what has already happened and we know what me must do,” said Turner.
Chappel Burnely brought her seven-year-old daughter to help her understand what this day is all about. Her explanation was straight to the point.
“I told her you know Independence Day, right? Well this is independence day for black people,” said Burnley.
Burnley homeschools and says she plans to elaborate more when the time is right, but for now, at least her daughter has a chance to see the celebration for herself at an age where she could learn to carry the tradition for years to come. Burnley herself had never been to a Juneteenth celebration before and hopes the lessons learned here can help others understand why it’s so important to never forget what makes this day special.
She’s spent the past few weeks attending marches and having conversations about race she long felt were overdue. Burnley like others admits, it takes a toll. Which makes days like Juneteenth all the more appreciated. It’s the break Burnley says she needs, if we plan to continue fighting for social justice.
“Now for people to acknowledge our pain and the things we’ve been going through, it’s like I need to take a break because I can’t be at a high all the time. So this is nice to decompress, chill and we can start back tomorrow,” said Burnley.