I have known about Juneteenth since I was very young. Both of my parents were born and raised in the deep south. My mother, from Farmerville, LA, made it a point to educate her children, raised in a predominantly white neighborhood, on the trauma Black communities had endured during the Civil Rights and Jim Crow eras. That included educating us on the reason we celebrate Juneteenth.
Juneteenth celebrates the ending of slavery in the United States. Although President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on June 1, 1863, Juneteenth was celebrated on June 19 because that was the day Texas agreed to end slavery – the last state to do so. In 2021, this date became a federal holiday.
Emancipation Day was regularly celebrated in Omaha from 1891 to 1940. It has been honored as Juneteenth since 1977.
My family was blessed to live in Omaha, a city that celebrated Juneteenth significantly. I can’t recall a summer that I wasn’t either at the parade or participating as co-director of the only drill team in South Omaha, the Omaha Marching Phoenix. The drill team was led by myself and the current vice president of the Highland South-Indian Hill Neighborhood Association.
One might wonder what Juneteenth has to do with neighborhoods. As a lover of neighborhoods and their ability to unite us, I can think of several connections between this holiday and our work in developing thriving neighborhoods.
In my family, Juneteenth has always been a time for coming together and reflecting on history. It was also a time to celebrate our freedom. What stands out to me as I reflect on those times is people coming together. It’s amazing what happens when people gather, especially people who care about an issue.
Whether with our family or our neighbors, Juneteenth provides an opportunity to come together and examine our shared experiences. That includes how we communicate with one another, how we work together, and how we show up and exist. After all, no great work is done alone!
When I think about Juneteenth in Omaha, it goes beyond connecting myself to what has happened in history. Sure, it tells me the story of Juneteenth, but it also shows me the power within our community. I have watched local leaders come together and organize Juneteenth before the nation ever thought about making it a holiday. Regardless of socioeconomic status or what may or may not have happened in the community, people utilized shared public assets to come together. They put on an event that brought many of us much more than any educational institution could have. When you organize a community, you help them recognize the power and capacity for outstanding work that already exists within it. That’s community organizing at its finest.
So this Juneteenth, I encourage you to do a few things:
- Join your neighborhood association. Learn more about neighborhood associations here.
- Gather your family, friends, and neighbors, teach them about Juneteenth, then have a candid conversation (check out our additional resources below)
- Join in a local celebration: Juneteenth Joyfest, the Omaha Freedom Festival, or the NAACP Omaha Juneteenth Parade
This blog was written by Kimara Snipes, One Omaha’s executive director.
A History of Emancipation Day in Omaha (North Omaha History)
What is Juneteenth? (National Museum of African American History and Culture)
The History of Juneteenth and Why it Resonates Today (Washington Post)