Juneteenth: A Conversation with Artist Sedrick Huckaby

Posted on Jun 15, 2022

Juneteenth: A Conversation with Artist Sedrick Huckaby

Recently, Pastor of Arts and Cultural Engagement Greg Holmes spoke with renowned artist Sedrick Huckaby about the history and significance of Juneteenth. Read some excerpts from their conversation, below.

Greg: A couple of years ago, Sedrick, we did an interview for Chase Oaks. And during that conversation, I'm not even sure how we got there, but we started talking about Juneteenth. I had heard of Juneteenth and knew a little bit about it. But after that conversation, I realized how big of a deal it is, and you educated me on why Juneteenth is so important. Could you talk about that? What is Juneteenth about, and why should people like me or churches like Chase Oaks care?

Sedrick: So, after the Civil War, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, there were still slavery happening in Texas. What was so important about that date [June 19, 1865] was that was the day when General Granger came into Galveston and announced freedom for all. The slaves in Texas had been waiting for that because people had heard it through the grapevine that this proclamation thing had happened.

So we have this great celebration on the Fourth of July when we celebrate independence from England. But Juneteenth is a major celebration of freedom. And since there was no celebration at the end of the Civil War—I don't know if you've ever noticed it or not, but there was no celebration after the Civil War that we had become a nation of freedom, a nation that was about freedom.

Greg: A unified nation.

Sedrick: A nation where all people were free. Yet they couldn't have done a national celebration at that time simply because it was still all of the turmoil that came from the war. And so, the Juneteenth thing, it was first celebrated just by blacks in Texas. But slowly it started to spread across the US as some of the blacks migrated to different places. And when you think about it, there has been no other celebration for this nation becoming a place that was totally about freedom … Juneteenth is something that the whole nation should celebrate.

What people were wondering was, “Isn't this a Texas thing? Like, why should this be a national holiday?” All other slaves had been already been set free in other states around the country, but the answer is simple. We're not free until we're all free.

Greg: It is one of the most prime celebrations of freedom. When you look at our calendar of celebrations in the things that we memorialize, Juneteenth needs to be right up there, right at the top. And for people that care about the values that America stands for, there was no real, full freedom until Juneteenth. Yeah, it's the true end of the Civil War. And so it's a pretty remarkable day.

Tell us about Dr. Opal Lee. Who is Opal Lee?

Sedrick: For many years people were saying, hey, this Juneteenth should be a national holiday. And there is this old lady here in Fort Worth, Texas, who started to organize around that and started to push to get it made into a national holiday. And she did it year after year after year. Opal is special in that she was first an educator, like a schoolteacher. But she also has done many different things. She's sort of an activist because, one of the things she did to advocate for Juneteenth was to organize these marches, these Walks for Freedom that she did. She walked toward DC to bring attention and awareness to Juneteenth. Well finally, Opal started to have greater and greater attention on this push toward Juneteenth until it became a holiday, not too long ago.

What people were wondering was, “Isn't this a Texas thing? Like, why should this be a national holiday?” All other slaves had been already been set free in other states around the country, but the answer is simple. We're not free until we're all free.

Greg: Right.

Sedrick: It's not a free nation until all people in all the states of the nation are free. Opal is that little old lady who just kept on pushing until they finally recognized Juneteenth nationally in 2021.

Greg: And she was there, standing right there next to the president when they signed it.

Sedrick: She is nominated now for a Nobel Peace Prize.

: Wow. That's great. Alright, last question. Do you ever feel there's a conflict that comes up in some people's minds about Juneteenth? Do you ever feel conflicted as an African American celebrating Juneteenth, in light of the continued racial issues that exist in America and how far we still have to go?

Sedrick: I never feel a conflict. My whole life, we’ve been celebrating Juneteenth. Where I saw a conflict was in our nation’s hesitancy in turning Juneteenth into a national holiday. It kept being taken to Congress and it kept not getting voted through. That’s where I saw the conflict. But now that it has become a national holiday, now it's about asking, “How do we open it up? How do we now build upon this foundation of freedom and this celebration so that we can all embrace it? How do we now spread the word that this day is important to our national identity?”

Greg: I think with any family, any organization, any country, it's inevitable that we cultivate what we celebrate. So it does matter what we commemorate and what we celebrate, because it says something not only about who we are or what happened, but it also says something about who we’re striving to be. And so there is still a long way to go, but Juneteenth was an important step for us as a country, and it is worthy of celebration. So, thank you. Thank you for giving your perspective and thanks for giving us a few minutes.

To learn more about Juneteenth and find ideas for how to engage with and celebrate this holiday, look here.

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