If it’s a Juneteenth Celebration, call it a Juneteenth Celebration, otherwise pick another date

Kennesaw Police headquarters in article about Juneteenth unityKennesaw Police headquarters (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

[This is an opinion piece from Larry Felton Johnson, the Editor and Publisher of the Cobb County Courier]

There has been a fierce and highly organized effort in the U.S.. lately to virtually outlaw teaching about the role of the enslavement of Black people in the U.S. via attacks on the New York Times 1619 project and Critical Race Theory.

Slavery was a horrible institution. Slavery played a central role in the economic growth of the U.S. There should be absolutely no controversy that it was a terrible institution, a shameful stain on U.S. history, and that children (and adults for that matter) should be made aware of that history.

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, marks the date in 1865 that enslaved people in Texas learned of the formal end of slavery in the United States.

It’s an important day to acknowledge, particularly since that knowledge is coming under concerted attack.

Yet here’s an announcement from the City of Kennesaw:

Kennesaw, GA (June 8, 2021) — The Kennesaw Police Department would like to invite the community to join them for the First Annual “One Community: A Celebration of Unity” event. The Kennesaw Police Department, in partnership with a team of faith and community leaders, will celebrate the community, the diversity of the community and unity with a family-friendly event on Saturday, June 19 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Kennesaw First Baptist Church, located at 2958 North Main Street.

“We look forward to this opportunity to spend time with those we serve in a new way,” says Chief of Police Bill Westenberger. “We want to take the opportunity to celebrate a day recognizing freedom through emancipation. There is no better day to engage diversity by celebrating opportunities to be together, play together, eat together and celebrate together.”

The event is free to the public.

What’s missing from this?

In an announcement of an event obviously scheduled on Juneteenth, there’s no mention of Juneteenth. The words “slavery” or “enslavement” are not used.

The only word that somewhat touches on the institution of slavery was Chief Westenberger’s use of the word “emancipation.”

But let’s be clear about this. “Engaging diversity” is a good thing. But it wasn’t a racially diverse group of people who were enslaved and then emancipated, and the enslavers were overwhelmingly from one racial background.

For history to have any meaning at all it has to involve a hard, honest look at that history.

Make no mistake about it, there’s a campaign in this country to avoid acknowledging the hard, cold facts of U.S. history.

It’s seen most obviously at school board meetings and legislatures across the country where at attempt is underway to enforce by law and regulation a sanitized and inaccurate version of the role of race in this country.

But one would think that most people would agree that slavery was a bad thing, and that a day celebrating the formal end of slavery would be a good thing, and should be done in a front-and-center way.

So the Kennesaw Police Department should rethink the way they are framing this celebration.

Celebration of unity and diversity are a good idea, and I truly hate criticizing an event organized under that banner.

But if that’s all it is, choose another date. Juneteenth has a specific meaning.

And blotting out the parts of American history that are uncomfortable is not helpful.