Juneteenth: Reflections on Freedom

Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Austin History Center, Austin Public Library. Wikimedia Commons. 18 June 2020, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Juneteenth#/media/File:Emancipation_Day_celebration_-_1900-06-19.jpg

History

General order No. 3 of June 19, 1865, issued by General Gordon Granger to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 in the Department of Texas. 18 June 2020, http://www.blackpast.org/files/blackpast_images/juneteenth_general_order3.jpg

Juneteenth is a holiday that has at least some legislative recognition, in the form of a statute or official statewide observance, in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Considering its significance, Juneteenth is not as well known or widely observed among the general US populace as one would think, especially in comparison to the Fourth of July. The annual observance of Juneteenth commemorates the public reading in Texas on June 19th, 1865, of General Order No. 3, announcing that all slaves had been freed. If you’re doing the math between that announcement and the issue date of the Emancipation Proclamation, the latter occurred a full 2-1/2 years prior, on January 1, 1863. The reasons for the long stretch between the two are numerous, but many historians agree that the delay was due at least in part to Texas slave owners’ desire to reap the benefit of slave labor through one more cotton harvest.

The Juneteenth Flag, originally designed by Ben Heath. Based on the Texas flag, the outline of the star symbolizes new hope for freedom. Conradt, Stacy. “12 Things You Might Not Know About Juneteenth.” Mental Floss. 27 May 2020, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/501680/12-things-you-might-not-know-about-juneteenth

Artists and Film

Ralph Ellison, 1961. Wikimedia Commons. 16 June 2020, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ralph_Ellison_photo_portrait_seated.jpg

Author Ralph Ellison struggled over decades to complete his second novel after his first, Invisible Manwon the National Book Award upon publication in 1952. Unfinished at his death, the novel, Juneteenth, was reworked and published posthumously by Ellison’s longtime friend John Callahan.

Through IU Media Services department’s streaming platforms, you can use your IU credentials to access an in-depth documentary on the life and writings of Ellison, entitled Ralph Ellison: An American Journey (available through Alexander Street Press). TL:DR: watch a moving excerpt of that same documentary via Films On Demand’s Master Academic Collection entitled “Ellison’s Unfinished Work.” This  7-minute segment shows Toni Morrison doing a public reading of a passage from Juneteenth in which Ellison explores the complex relationship between Black women caregivers and the White babies they nurtured. Ellison eloquently captures the fraught changes in those relationships as the children grow up to assume a position at the top of the racial hierarchy. 

There are not many feature films that reference Juneteenth, but Miss Juneteenth is scheduled for release in conjunction with Juneteenth 2020. A character study within a pageant film, the story, directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, “explores how Black women and girls support each other in a world that often fails them.”

Judith McCray, DePaul Adjunct Faculty and founder, Juneteenth Productions. 17 June 2020, https://communication.depaul.edu/faculty-and-staff/faculty/Pages/Adjunct/mccray.aspx

Juneteenth Productions is a real-life effort to foster that same type of support. Launched by Emmy-award winner Judith McCray, the Chicago-based company focuses on educational and documentary media resources in support of social justice. McCray is also on the faculty of DePaul University and producer of the podcast Zebra Sisters: Crossing Racial Boundaries  for the Chicago Sun-Times.

National Holiday/Local Observances

“93-Year-Old To Admonish Hopefuls At Debate To Remember Juneteenth.” The Cincinnati Herald. November 2019, http://thecincinnatiherald.com/2019/11/93-year-old-to-admonish-hopefuls-at-debate-to-remember-juneteenth/

There have been numerous attempts over the years to make Juneteenth a national holiday, and the idea seems to be gaining traction as more US citizens come to understand the significance of the observance, its importance to the Black community, and its symbolic value as both a symbol of hope and a challenge to manifest the ideals of freedom proclaimed centuries ago. One of the most visible activists in the push for national holiday status is Ms. Opal Lee, a 93-year-old who has been walking in her home state of Texas and in many other states in the nation, many times accompanied by a crowd of supporters, to draw attention to the importance of Juneteenth.

 

Indiana University and the City of Bloomington have local traditions for celebrating Juneteenth, and though the pandemic is having its effect on in-person observances, Bloomington Black Lives Matter is hosting a safe, physically distanced event with the following guidelines: Please remember that this is a Black Community event! We will be giving priority to Black Community members. You can learn more on BLM B-town’s home page, including how to register for food and space.

Juneteenth events large and small are happening all over the country. Here are a few more that offer entertainment, education, and sometimes both. All events are either cost-free or offer a cost-free option:

If you are in the mood for a large-scale party: Sweet Honey In The Rock streaming concert & guests (incl. Gina Belafonte, Jordan Ware, Danny Glover): https://sweethoneyintherock.org/juneteenth

Feeling like a more intimate event? Try Nnenna Ogwo and the Sterling Strings’ Annual Juneteenth Celebration live from New York: https://publictheater.org/productions/joes-pub/2020/j/nnenna-ogwo–sterling-strings-annual-juneteenth-celebration/

Nnenna Ogwo is a classically trained pianist and teaching artist dedicated to engaging listeners with her lush, richly layered performances. Her unwavering commitment to programming the music of under-represented composers is rooted in the belief that we can’t be what we can’t see or hear. This commitment is reflected in her various projects and collaborations with other musicians of color in presenting music of the African Diaspora and beyond.

 

Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the BU Center for Anti-Racist Research and one of the most sought-after anti-racist speakers, will give a talk entitled “How to Build An Anti-Racist Movement” sponsored by Boston Globe: https://globeoptalk.splashthat.com/?fbclid=IwAR3vDjeEfijZGlGbhi87kX0_d-g5kHnllOTtThKgj0dUkb8dxmjRo-oX-rU

The ACLU is also sponsoring an educational event entitled “Juneteenth, COVID-19, and the Killings of Black People.” This online forum can be found at https://www.aclu.org/news/topic/reparations-h-r-40-and-the-path-forward/?redirect=reparations

Additional resources

If you want to learn more about Juneteenth itself, check out the Juneteenth Jamboree series from KLRU-TV, the PBS affiliate station in Austin, Texas. From the inaugural episode in 2008 to the present, the annual Jamboree shows can be searched by topics such as Performing Arts, Community, Food and Dining, and History. 

All of us at Media Services wish all of you a meaningful and joyful Juneteenth! HS

Heather Sloan is the Media and Maps Assistant at Herman B Wells Library. In conjunction with her library work, she is a scholar of Afro-Caribbean percussion traditions. Ongoing projects include studying the effects of deforestation on African diaspora drum-making traditions in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Haiti. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Library Science with a specialization in Digital Humanities at IU and was a 2019-2020 HASTAC Scholar.