Skip navigation links

June 14, 2022

Faculty voice: Juneteenth and the ongoing pursuit of freedom

Rodney Whitaker is University Distinguished Professor of Jazz Bass, Director of Jazz Studies, and Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging in the Michigan State University College of Music. He is an executive producer of the new College of Music television series Music for Social Justice, and he is featured in an episode entitled “Freedom” which premieres on Juneteenth, 4 p.m. Sunday, June 19 on WKAR-TV and will be available on-demand at

Rodney Whitaker
Juneteenth is an African American celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. For a long time, only the African American community knew about this celebration. During President Barack Obama’s administration, however, he began to celebrate Juneteenth at the White House formally, which helped heighten the awareness of this occasion. It made the average American more aware of its meaning and the need to celebrate this holiday. 

As an African American, this holiday is very significant because the fight for freedom is the most important fight for my culture and my people. Without basic freedoms and rights, you do not have the ability to pursue happiness. It is impossible, as Americans, to live up to the true meaning of our creed without that ability.

I first became aware of Juneteenth and its significance while in my African American Literature class in high school. Since that time, there have been many books, articles, and publications dedicated to commemorating this occasion. Personally, this holiday means a great deal to me because each victory — whether it is celebrating a holiday such as this or legislative actions — brings us a step closer to becoming a more perfect union. 

With all of the things taking place politically in America, this holiday is becoming increasingly more important to celebrate. The basic ideology that we are fighting against is anti-freedom.

There is a strong connection between the fight that Juneteenth inspires and the Music for Social Justice series because, ultimately, all of the episodes speak to freedom and equality, which is a basic, intrinsic right. It is my hope that the audiences who view this series will either be inspired, rejuvenated, and/or encouraged to fight for freedom — that viewers come to a greater understanding of the fact that until we are all free, none of us are free.

Whitaker will be performing live with the Spartan Jazz Quartet at the MSU Juneteenth Celebration on Friday, June 17 at the Breslin Center.

By: Rodney Whitaker

Media Contacts


more content from this collection

Faculty Voices