Dr. Lisa R. Brown

To the Citizens of Akron, the State of Ohio and the Nation:

I hope this message finds you well. This opinion column piece is meant to provide proper education about Juneteenth and its subsequent establishment as a federal holiday — the first commemoration to celebrate the historical contributions and stories of the formerly enslaved and their U.S. freedmen descendants since the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Nevertheless, I have a significant concern (which is national at this point) about how Juneteenth is represented. It is a commemoration, similar to Memorial Day, and about the emancipation of enslaved people. The colors of red, white and blue and the Juneteenth flag have been recognized and promoted by local, state and federal agencies nationwide.

Dr. Lisa R. Brown

Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official state holiday.  Additionally, Juneteenth has served as a time for celebration for many African Americans and is associated with the name given to Emancipation Day by African Americans in Texas (some have also called it the Day of Jubilee in Galveston). 

On June 19, 1865, Union Major-General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 to the people of Galveston. He was accompanied by Black soldiers for whom President Abraham Lincoln noted that Black freedmen serving with valor and courage in the American Civil War helped to secure the battle victory and preserve the Union. The success of the war campaign subsequently ushered in the Reconstruction era that included the passing of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, setting the framework for the establishment of citizenship for the formerly enslaved.

The courage and patriotism displayed by the U.S. freedmen who participated in their liberation should be shared with youths and adults around the nation. We should not succumb to fear and preemptively shut down celebrations because a few bad actors in our communities do bad things.

We must educate and inform our communities and protect our safety by helping all citizens of Akron take stock and pride in their neighborhoods and families. We will not be held hostage by any tragedy, but like the nova star of the Juneteenth flag, we must rise above negative circumstances and teach our children what our ancestors sacrificed to make America a land that gives opportunities for success for them (while doing just that through acts of justice and equality).

The Brown home, recently awarded a historic landmark designation by Akron, is decorated from Memorial Day through the Fourth of July.

Therefore, I think it is important going forward that we use the official representation of the holiday and that groups consider adding the Juneteenth flag to all flyers, as its symbolism and colors are paramount to the commemoration. Government offices should also include raising the federally recognized flag on their properties during the season of the holiday.

Juneteenth is a uniquely Black American experience and history where Union soldiers, which included Black U.S. freedmen army members, helped liberate the enslaved in Texas who were denied knowledge of their legal Emancipation for almost two years. 

From the U.S. General Service Administration:

“The Juneteenth flag honors the official abolition of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865. That flag features the colors of the American flag, a curvature that symbolizes new horizons, the five-point star of Texas where the final 250,000 enslaved people were emancipated in Galveston, and a larger star that stands for the spread of freedom.”

Historic preservation is an academic and cultural imperative even when goals of diversity and increased knowledge and awareness of Black history to encourage civic engagement for social justice education are intended.

No cultural or ethnic groups want their history repurposed or appropriated in ways that distort its meaning. I look forward to our city of Akron and the state of Ohio being an exemplar of getting the federal Juneteenth holiday correct since we have such a rich history surrounding freedom seekers arriving here during the Great Migration of the early 1930s and as a passageway to freedom with routes on the Underground Railroad.

Dr. Lisa R. Brown, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Dreeben School of Education at the University of the Incarnate Word, the largest Catholic university in Texas.