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Dr. Calvin Hill hosts a Juneteenth discussion with Dr. Nikita Harris

By Chris Gionta

History was made this past Tuesday when the United States Senate unanimously passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which established Juneteenth as a federal holiday. This inspired Springfield College’s Vice President for Inclusion and Community Engagement, Dr. Calvin Hill, to host a virtual event talking about the holiday. 

The event was called What Juneteenth Means to Me: A conversation between (two native Texans) Vice President Calvin R. Hill, PhD, and Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Alabama Nikita Y. Harris, PhD. It was held at 11 a.m. on Friday over Zoom. As implied by the title, Hill was joined by Dr. Nikita Y. Harris, who shares equal enthusiasm for Juneteenth.

The presentation began with an introductory video explaining why the holiday of Juneteenth was important. The video went over its origin, and the ways in which it has been celebrated through the years.

Hill briefly explained his personal life experience with the holiday after the conclusion of the video.

“So I love Juneteenth,” said Hill. “I grew up, as I shared with you all, in Texas. And I can remember fond holidays at church celebrating.”

Then, Harris discussed her childhood household traditions for Juneteenth. She talked about how it would be an annual family gathering, and why there was an emphasis on the holiday when she was growing up.

“It has always been this observance and recognition of freedom,” said Harris. “And freedom not just for a particular group of people, but freedom for all.”

The next topic discussed was the origin of the holiday and the reason June 19 is celebrated while the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation is not.

“As we know, and from what I’ve read, and from what historians have written, the Emancipation Proclamation was very political,” said Harris. 

“And with the Emancipation Proclamation, if you read it very closely, you will find that it provided or issued the freedom of slaves for those states that were in tension with the Union.”

Hill and Harris then went on to discuss how the holiday connects to today’s issues. The topic of the teachings of critical race theory being limited in some states was brought up.

“I think we were anxiously waiting as a country to see what the House was going to do after the Senate’s vote, and then to see on the heels of the House vote, Governor [Jim] Abbott, as well as many other governors around the country were saying that they are not going to teach aspects of critical race theory,” said Hill. 

“Again, it’s been really fascinating, because we’re moving to acknowledge, but at the same time we’re saying ‘Well, we’re only going to acknowledge so much.’”

Ultimately for Harris, Juneteenth is not only about the education on why it is an important day, but also an opportunity for people and their families to come together.

“The things that I remember as a young child is that our communities and our families came together,” said Harris. “It was a celebration of family.”

This led into the full circle that is created by celebrating Juneteenth as family.

“I think this is so powerful. Once enslaved black folks knew that they were no longer in bondage in terms of their slavery, the first thing that they did was go find their families,” said Harris.

As the holiday of Juneteenth was generally hidden from the public sphere for most of its history, it has finally garnered national attention. Dr. Hill and Dr. Harris provided the Springfield College community perspective on the day, what made it special for them, and why they believe it should remain special for current and future generations.

Photos Courtesy Springfield College and University of Alabama

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