Why Juneteenth has a Focus Denied to African Liberation Day

Image from African Liberation Day

This past weekend, the concept of Juneteenth was discussed and celebrated all throughout the U.S.  Spurred by consciousness brought about by people in the streets protesting police terrorism against the African masses, Juneteenth serves as a pressure point for supporting the history of our resistance against oppression. 

For anyone who hasn’t figured it out yet, Juneteenth is the commemoration of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery in the U.S. in 1863.  Due to the corrupt and oppressive nature of chattel slavery as an institution, the slaver masters in Galveston, Texas, U.S., didn’t even bother to tell the enslaved Africans there until June 19th, 1865.  Since that time, Africans everywhere throughout the U.S. have commemorated Juneteenth each year around the 19TH of June.  I’ve grown up commemorating Juneteenth like lots of Africans.  Despite the fact the U.S. capitalist system perfects its annual violent effort of pushing the Fourth of July, U.S. independence day, down our throats, I was taught by my community as a youth that we were enslaved in this country on July 4, 1776 – the time the Declaration of Independence was signed (which the 4th of July was designed to commemorate).  As a result, it became quite clear to me at 10 years old that July 4th could never be for us.  So, we had Juneteenth as our day of independence.

Fast forward decades later I, fortunately, have a much broader sense of who we are as Africans and what we are in relationship to the U.S. capitalist system.  For the past almost 40 years, I’ve developed an appreciation for African Liberation Day (ALD) as the national day of commemoration for African freedom and forward progress.  Although I will always respect and appreciate the concept of Juneteenth, besides speaking at and providing information at Juneteenth events, I haven’t purposely commemorated the day in decades.  So, it’s a little interesting to me to see so many people out commemorating it this year.  People who last year at this time had no idea what Juneteenth, ALD, or any day or activity commemorating African people is, was or could be. 

A part of me experienced the typical irritation that exists with pretty much everything that involves our people in this country.  The irritation results because I see the corporate sponsorship of Juneteenth and I know the street level activism that pushed Netflix, Target, and all of corporate U.S. to acknowledge Juneteenth will never be recognized for our efforts.  I’m

irritated because I know these corporations decided to choose Juneteenth because this is a historical commemoration that makes no demand for what we need and deserve for the future.  Many Juneteenth commemorations are dominated by corporations.  As a result, they maintain the flavor of a celebration.  A party.  A big BBQ.  Most of the time, the most political message articulated at Juneteenth events is for African people to vote for one white supremacist over another white supremacist because these people tell us over and over again that a hierarchy of white supremacists is a choice and a thing.

I’m irritated because ALD is completely different from Juneteenth.  And, that difference will prohibit ALD from ever being promoted and celebrated the way Juneteenth was this year.  ALD is no party.  Its no BBQ.  Those things can and do happen at ALD, but ALD is unquestionably a call for African people everywhere on earth to unite and organize to create a worldwide fighting force to overthrow international capitalism and imperialism.  To run capitalism out of Africa and to achieve one unified socialist Africa to address the needs of African people struggling and suffering everywhere. 

Due to this clear and uncompromising focus from African Liberation Day, no U.S. capitalist corporation will ever sign on to support ALD commemorations.  And, since the capitalist entities won’t support it, that means their ability to spread a message won’t exist.  That means the average person who found out about Juneteenth in one way or another because of capitalism’s partial endorsement of it, won’t hear anything about ALD and therefore it will pass with a much smaller focus and emphasis.

What’s interesting is questions like this serve as true gauges of who is really serious and who actually has our backs.  Anyone truly concerned about stopping police terror against the African masses has to elevate to recognize that Pan-Africanism, the objective that ALD is designed to promote, is a clear and present solution to eliminating police terrorism against us.  So, for those of us with clear vision, we are looking for people to move beyond the typical parameters to identify true justice for the African masses.  Standing around at a corporate sanctioned Juneteenth event isn’t accomplishing any of that.  What’s required is the willingness to step ahead and find out what African people are doing, not just in the U.S., but all over the world together, without corporate support (because the master will obviously never support anything that brings about their overthrow).  The need is for Africans to plug into and participate and/or at least support those independent efforts.  For others who claim to stand with us to lift up our actual work to achieve liberation and not just symbolic efforts that do little to change our actual material conditions.

Juneteenth is a great commemoration.  It speaks into the reality that African people in the U.S., as well as the rest of the Americas, fought relentlessly against slavery and as old racist Abe Lincoln himself stated when preparing to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, the constant slave revolts made maintaining the slavery system untenable.  So, we hold up Juneteenth and all displays of recognition of our people being freed from chattel slavery, but focusing on this isn’t enough.  If the current conditions of oppression are the thing that opened people’s eyes to Juneteenth than obviously there is a need for us to discuss what is needed now to continue our struggle to eliminate the vestiges of oppression that continue to impact us.  African Liberation Day, the symbolic call to action for the Pan-African movement, is one of those institutions.  ALD encompasses the history commemorated in Juneteenth while expanding to include the struggles of all Africans (not just those in the U.S.) because our struggles are all one.  Slave raids separated our families, so we all have relatives in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, as well as obviously in Africa.  It’s ill logical for us to permit anyone to convince us that we are just confined to the U.S. 

ALD accomplishes everything Juneteenth accomplishes and so much more.  But, we don’t say don’t commemorate Juneteenth.  Instead, we say acknowledge Juneteenth, but learn to step up your game and understand and support African Liberation Day as well.  A great clue is whenever oppressed people are organizing and commemorating something like ALD with no support from the capitalist system, that should always be a sign to you that this is something with integrity that I need to get behind.

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Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People's Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.