UW Scholars Tackle Juneteenth
By Keme Hawkins
     Summertime not only brings hot weather, pool parties, and weddings, but also that elusive holiday celebrated by African American communities. It takes place in June on a non-descript day to commemorate an ambiguous historical event. It's Juneteenth.
     What better way to approach the historical indistinctness of Juneteenth (Historical Society aside) than to talk to some Afro-American studies scholars: Second-year Afro-American studies Master's student William Sturkey, second-year Afro-American studies Master's student Susan Eckelmann and English Ph.D. student and Afro-American studies Master Michelle Gordon.
     What is Juneteenth really about? Most people believe it is a holiday created to celebrate the emancipation of the slaves, while some scholars shy away from those kinds of definitive answers and embrace the holiday's complexity.
William Sturkey is all too aware of these complexities. As a historian, Sturkey tries to identify the holiday's most salient historical connections.
     "On June 19th 1865, when Union troops reached Galveston, Tex, it by no means ended slavery or had a profoundly positive impact on the lives of African Americans in the South. While the American slave system as we know it may have ceased to exist, other systems were created and designed for the same purposes," Sturkey said. 
     According to actual events of June 19th the holiday has nothing to do with the nation's emancipation of slaves in the United States.  But that doesn't keep people from forming a real connection to holiday and participating in its celebrations. Michelle Gordon has found a way to reconcile the contradictory historical facts with a faulty historical memory.
     "Juneteenth has a complicated meaning to me as a scholar, especially because I can't separate my identity as a scholar from my identity as a person who descends from oppressed peoples. Juneteenth means the national promise of freedom to Black Americans, and it means we can hold the nation accountable for that promise. The celebration carries a sense of hope and tradition. And good food," Gordon said.
     Being an international student from Germany, Susan Eckelmann did not learn about Juneteenth until she decided to come to UW Madison.
     "I went to the Afro-American studies website and saw a picture of a group of students at a Juneteenth celebration. Being a scholar of Afro-American history, there is still little that I know about the holiday. I know that it is widely celebrated and very significant, but I would like to explore it more. Little knowledge is communicated in the media about this day," Eckelmann said.
     Juneteenth isn't the only unapparent holiday to celebrate emancipation; there is also Carnival, which is celebrated throughout the Caribbean and Brazil. Although many us are familiar with the large headdresses donned by the beautiful, glittered women wearing sequenced bikinis followed by drummers playing hypnotizing rhythms and throngs of entranced dancers, few people know that Carnival is a festivity commemorating the emancipation of slaves in the Caribbean and Latin America.
     Is Juneteenth a national treasure only truly understood and appreciated by a select group of African Americans? Why is there such ambiguity surrounding the holiday, an ambiguity that is reflected in its name? Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that it does commemorate the freeing of Black peoples from slavery in the United States. The details are irrelevant.
      A good way to end to mystery of the holiday is to come see for yourself what the celebration involves. This year's Juneteenth celebration on Saturday June 17th begins with a parade at 10 am at the Fountain of Life Church and ends at the PennPark festival grounds. There will be plenty of food vendors and performances all memorializing emancipation.
Time Flies -- and Hindsight really is 20/20
by Pamela Pfeffer
     The old cliché "time flies" is really true! Here I sit reminiscing on the years when my daughter Martine was learning to crawl -- then walk -- then ride her bike -- her first dance -- her first trip to the mall without me -- her first job --  her first of many life experiences, some we anticipated with joy others we held our breath and counted to ten. She is like many young adults, full of the unexpected and the joy and pain of teen-age life. Her journey wasn't always easy but it wasn't always difficult, some days it was smooth sailing. She graduated Friday night from HamiltonHigh School and it finally hit me, for many of her teen-age years she was like a diamond in the rough. She like so many of us are never complete, we are constantly growing and changing and re-examining who we are and our place in this world. I'm proud of her journey and I look at her today and realize she and her sisters are the best part of me and that all that I consider just and good can be seen in them.
     My middle daughter Allie graduated from SavannaOaksMiddle School last Wednesday and having to let her move forward to the next stage of her development is really hard for me. She is on the brink of young adulthood and has excelled at everything all her life but up until now she was still my "little" girl. I find myself reminding her often these days to bear with me; her growing up seemed to happen overnight!
     My youngest daughter Liberty has promised to grow old with me! She says Mommy will always have atleast one of her baby's home with her forever and though this brings a smile to my face, I know she too will grow up and have a journey of her own.  
     Martine will head to college in August to major in Early Childhood Education, Allie will head to Verona High School and Liberty will start second grade while I count the blessing life has given me through my girls.
     Parenting has a way of teaching us to want to be better and kinder people. It also teaches us how to place someone else's needs before ones own and to do so willingly. I know that my daughters have taught me so much and that the best part of who I am is because I have them and they have taught me some of the greatest lessons in life.  To my girls -- I love you!!!!
Campus-Community Connection
June 14, 2006 Issue Archives