When most hear “Independence Day,” thoughts of fireworks, backyard barbeques, and cheers to American Independence often come to mind. But did you know that there’s another Freedom Day with great significance to American history and the Black community –Juneteenth?!
Throughout the week, Disney cast from around the U.S. congregated over dominoes tournaments, rap cypher, and community gatherings to celebrate Juneteenth. But, before we get into ‘Red Drink’ and celebration, it’s essential to reflect on the history of one of the most defining moments in American history.
Juneteenth is a holiday observed annually on June 19, celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. Celebrated since the 1800s, Juneteenth — now officially a federal holiday — is a time to reflect on our shared American history and the continuous work to achieve social justice. On this day in 1865 — a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation — union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed. Celebrations broke out among the newly freed people, and Juneteenth was born. Slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment in December of the same year.
Call it Black Independence Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, or Juneteenth. Regardless of the name, the heart of this holiday remained the same across our cast – an unapologetic celebration of black liberation and black joy!
Reflecting on our history, I headed to the Lincoln Theater, featuring a new installation honoring slavery abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass, to catch up with PULSE, Disneyland Resort’s Black Business Employee Resource Group (BERG), where we explored Juneteenth’s significance in American history.
“When guests see Frederick Douglass at Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, I want them to keep in mind that sometimes events taught in history don’t always tell the full story,” said Lindell Skinner, Senior Manager, Downtown Disney Business Relations. “In President Abraham Lincoln’s work to free enslaved people, Frederick Douglass pressured President Lincoln along the way. So, as people walk through the exhibit this Juneteenth and beyond, my hope is that guests take the time to understand that and reflect, leading them to learn more, research, read, and understand the history themselves.”
Lindell also shared how he honors Black Independence Day. “It’s a time for fellowship … to get together with people in your community and family. It’s a time to enjoy good food and good music.”
Speaking of fellowship, good food, and good music, BERGs from across the company came together to host a week of events celebrating black culture, untold stories, and black joy.
Last week, Walt Disney World and ESPN Pulse hosted a Juneteenth & Black Music Month Soul Food Cypher where cast put their lyricist skills to the test for an uplifting and interactive experience in celebration of Black Music Month and Juneteenth! Led by Alexander “Cost One” Acosta, founder of Atlanta-based Soul Food Cyphers, cast learned about the positive aspects of rap music through education and community outreach.
June is also Black Music Month. The team wanted to highlight the creatives behind our cultures most significant contributions to the musical landscape. Hip hop influences span our diaspora, from the Caribbean to Africa. The elements of lyrical flow and dancing can be traced all the way back to almost 80+ years ago,” said Alysia Haygood, Walt Disney World Program Manager. “My favorite part of the event was definitely the freestyle at the end. One of the Soul Food Cypher artists used words that were submitted through the zoom chat to create a one-of-a-kind freestyle rap on the spot!”
At Disneyland Resort’s Disneyland Hotel, cast became family at the PULSE Family Reunion, fellowshipping over a dominoes and spades tournament, music, food, and an all-around good time!
The cast celebrations didn’t end there! At the Disney VoluntEARS: Outdoor Afro: Reflections on Freedom, cast reflected on the question: “What does freedom mean to me in America?” The BERGs also hosted a Juneteenth Virtual Dance Party and Black Joy and Culture – Celebrations through Musical Storytelling.
On Saturday, with a ‘Red Drink’ in hand, a traditional Juneteenth beverage representing the sacrifice and bloodshed of those enslaved, I joined my fellow cast at the annual Long Beach Juneteenth Celebration featuring Disneyland Resort as a Jubilee Sponsor. The event started with a soulful rendition of the Black National Anthem, followed by a Black Greek step show, spoken word, stand-up comedy, and a closing performance by R&B artist Marsha Ambrosius.
At the Disney Parks, guests had the opportunity to immerse themselves in Black culture through events honoring Juneteenth and Black Music Month, including Disney Springs’ Art Walk: A Canvas of Expression.
Juneteenth brought together cast from across the U.S. in the spirit of resilience, resistance, and perseverance. As the fight for equality continues, we remember our history, recognize our accomplishments, and celebrate Black joy!