Black people have been marking Juneteenth since the late 1880s, but others are catching on — especially since the Black Lives Matter protests that captured our attention in 2020 raised new awareness of persistent racial inequality.
Juneteenth is a holiday that comes from combining June and 19 (the date in 1865 when news reached Texas that the Civil War had ended), but it is also known as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.” Families are gathering to spend time together, pray, and share a meal today — in some cities there are parades and festivals.
It’s a day to celebrate freedom — but it’s important that we remember this is a freedom from exclusion and prejudice and racism. Though we’ve made strides in that journey, we’ve not yet reached the promised land of full equality and opportunity and dignity. Remembering the specifics of where we’ve been can light the way forward by giving us courage and hope.
That’s why we were captivated by a photo exhibit that demonstrates how racism has been embedded in the very physical structures of our cities. Rich Frishman collects images of buildings that still bear the scars of racism: from now-bricked over separate entrances to old movie theaters in Mississippi to beaches in Chicago that used to hold segregated crowds.
Here’s how Rich describes an image of an ice-cream shop in Pascagoula, Mississippi, which shows a separate window on one side of the building:
Edd’s opened in 1954, during the era of Jim Crow. Until the late 1960’s, people of color had to order at the segregated window on the far right, and they could only place their order when no white customers were waiting. When I asked the manager about the window, she indicated that while many people think it’s an old drive-up window, the owners retained it as a reminder of the suffering so many have endured. “If we forget where we’ve been,” she said, “we can get lost again.”
So take some time today to browse these images and descriptions — to remember the stories that unfolded in the lives of people living in these specific places. The memory of what happened here reminds us that it can be different — that people created these spaces, and that people can change them. That’s a change worth remembering and celebrating because it proves that others walked ahead of us, and reminds us that more will walk behind us.