Exploring the meaning of Juneteenth

-Messenger file photo
Vanice Heath, of Fort Dodge, offers insight into the meaning of Juneteenth as the country prepares to mark the holiday.

The Messenger asked Vanice Heath, of Fort Dodge, to provide some insights on Juneteenth, which will be celebrated Wednesday.

Heath is a Chicago native who leads a program called DRIVE, which helps newly released prison inmates reintegrate into society. The program is sponsored by Athletics for Education and Success. He also works for CJ Bio America.

Here is a partial transcript of the interview with him.

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

“To me, Juneteenth is America’s second Independence Day because it marked — key word marked — the end of slavery in the South. There were still some pockets of it. Most people don’t understand that slavery wasn’t completely abolished until December of that year, 1865. That’s when Congress ratified it and made slavery illegal in the entire United States.

“But to me, it represents the second independence of America.”

How id you first learn about Juneteenth?

“I grew up in Chicago and learned about it in school during Black History Month. We were taught about Gen. Gordon Granger going down to Texas and telling the slaves there that they were free.”

What is the importance of Juneteenth today?

“America has many black eyes and slavery is one of them.

“But by everybody recognizing that slavery is not humane, it kind of puts us all on the same playing field as seeing everyone as humans worthy of dignity and respect.

“By celebrating Juneteenth, you are buying into that and saying and seeing that everybody is human.”

How would you explain the importance of Juneteenth to young people?

“It’s easy for young African-Americans. For non-African descent Americans, it is slightly tougher.

“I would try to explain that we need to look at each other as humans and that we are all worthy of respect. We need to respect and honor that.

“I would just basically explain to them that Juneteenth represents the end of an American struggle.”


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