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'For those who chose the sea': History and Juneteenth meaning explored

Eve Edwards June 20, 2021
Juneteenth Background


As Juneteenth is celebrated as a federal holiday for the first time this month, you may have seen a certain phrase arising in association with the event.

Many social media users marked the inaugural Juneteenth federal holiday by using the phrase, “for those who chose the sea”.

If you’ve come across this particular phrase and are wondering its origins – and about the underwater sculptures used in association – then you’ve come to the right place.

We explore the history and meaning of the phrase to mark Juneteenth this June 2021.

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What is the meaning of ‘for those who chose the sea’?

The phrase is used in reference to enslaved people who jumped overboard during the Middle Passage. The Middle Passage was a section of the triangular Atlantic slave trade that saw the forced transport of millions of West Africans to the new world.

Rather than be enslaved, many jumped overboard, literally choosing the sea over enslavement.

This is where the Juneteenth phrase comes from.

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Juneteenth celebrated across the United States as a federal holiday

Juneteenth is an annual holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. It commemorates 19 June 1865, the day a group of black slaves in Galveston, Texas, finally found out they were free. This came two and a half years after US president Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Multiple events took place to mark the first national holiday of Juneteenth.

George Floyd’s brother, Terrence, unveiled a statue on Saturday, 19 June 2021, in Brooklyn, New York. The 6ft sculpture, created by Chris Carnabuci, will be on display for two to three weeks before being transferred to Union Square in Manhattan, according to Pix 11.

Events – such as marches – took place in the likes of Georgia, New York and Colorado.

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Where are the underwater statues located?

  • Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park

The Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park, often referred to as the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park, is where the artwork can be found. They are used in association with the “for those who chose the sea’ phrase, although they weren’t created for this reason.

The sculpture shown is called The Vicissitudes. It was created by Jason deCaires Taylor, who confirmed it wasn’t made in reference to the Middle Passage.

The underwater sculpture park opened in 2006. There are 75 sculptures in the park. The Vicissitudes features 26 children forming a ring.

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Eve spends her days writing about everything culture-related. From celebrity news to music, film and television, Eve covers all bases. When she’s not writing you can find her making music or mastering the art of homemade pasta.