What Does Juneteenth Mean Today?

Editor's note: I wanted to share this piece contributed by C.C. Rider on Juneteenth 2015, acknowledging its relevance today.

This is the latest from The Bluesmobile’s C.C. Rider, who spends her life venerating the founding fathers of the blues. She’s walked the crooked highways of this singing country to resurrect the voices of the past. With the dirt of the Delta on her hands, she sleeps in the shadow of the giants on whose shoulders popular music now stands.

President Abraham Lincoln had, quote, “freed” the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. But it took two and a half years before the executive order was really enforced. June 19, 1865. In the south, it became an instant holiday. Juneteenth.

Celebrating Juneteenth isn’t as widespread today as it was in the past. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sing and dance ourselves, as well as think long and hard about what the day itself signifies.  And few could say it better than Nina Simone.

What’s freedom mean? Same thing it is to you – you tell me. (No, you tell me.)

It’s just a feeling. It’s like how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love? How are you going to tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love? You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things, but you can’t tell ‘em. But you know it when it happens. That’s what I mean by free.

I’ve had a couple of times on stage when I really felt free! And that’s something else, that’s really something else!

I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean, really, no fear. If I could have that half of my life, no fear. Lots of children have no fear. That’s the closest way, that’s the only way I can describe it. That’s not all of it, but it is something to really, really feel free. Like a new way of seeing, like a new way of seeing something.

 

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