June 19, 2021
In the novel Black Bottom Saints (Amistad, 2020) Alice Randall refers to Juneteenth as “. . . . good news, a long time coming.” Sometimes called Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, or Liberation Day, Juneteenth is, as Randall explains, a radical expression of joy. A day to celebrate the long-awaited emancipation of African-Americans who had been enslaved.
Yet, mixed in with the joy is grief and suffering. First celebrated in 1865 in Galveston, Texas, Juneteenth marks the day when Black people in Texas learned that they were free, and that slavery was no more. Good news, yes, but it came two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Act. A long time coming indeed.
Over the years, Black people across the United States joined their neighbours in the Lone Star State, celebrating the jubilation and liberation of their enslaved ancestors on this day. Some, like Opal Lee (aka the “Grandmother of Juneteenth”) fought for Juneteenth to be recognized as a federal holiday. A dream she saw come true in 2021, although she was quick to point out that we still need to “. . . push back against racism.”
As a white woman, born and raised in Canada, I have a lot of learning, speaking up, and pushing back to do. I know too little about Juneteenth, about slavery, about the Black experience, both in America and closer to home.
In this issue of Sift. Shift. Lift, I’ve rounded up some of the good work being done by Black academics, artists, and activists to lift up Juneteenth, and I’m listening hard to what they have to say about race and justice and humanity. I invite you to do the same.
Sift through the history and legacy of Juneteenth.
Do you have 45 minutes?
Want to go deeper? (Hat tip to Jermaine Fowler of The Humanity Archive for pointing me towards the last four resources in this list.)
On Juneteenth, Annette Gordon-Reed (Liveright, 2021)
Juneteenth: the story behind the celebration, Edward T. Cotham Jr. (State House Press, 2021)
The Library of Congress is a great source for those who want to mine the historical record.
See President Abraham Lincoln’s preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Listen to freed people tell their stories in the Voices Remembering Slavery collection.
Let art, music, and literature shift or deepen your understanding of Juneteenth.
“In Galveston, where enslaved Texans were notified that they were free on June 19, 1865, a 5,000-square-foot mural confronts our past and our future.”
Read “Juneteenth and America’s unfulfilled promise of ‘absolute equality’” by Erin E. Evans (Huffington Post, June 19, 2021) to find out about the mural by Reginald C. Adams and its connection to Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, who made the proclamation that “all slaves were free” in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865.
I have added Black Bottom Saints, by Alice Randall to my (ever-growing) to-be-read list. In the meantime, I’m getting to know the novel’s characters one at a time through Randall’s fantastic podcast of the same name. Intrigued?
Check out episode two of the podcast: “Juneteenth and Joe Louis.”
And, download the first chapter of the novel for free.
Black & Bookish curated a list of “10 books to celebrate Juneteenth no matter your age.” I won’t post the whole list here but I will offer one spoiler: Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison is on the list.
Learn about Ellison’s 40-year struggle to write this novel about race and violence in “Ralph Ellison’s ‘Juneteenth’”, written by Barbara Bair, curator of literature, culture and the arts in the United States Library of Congress’s manuscript division.
Speaking of Ralph Ellison, he said “One of the chief values of living with music lies in its power to give us an orientation in time.” There is a resounding truth to this statement, which opens up a list of “Songs to celebrate Juneteenth” published by Mother Jones in 2019.
Looking for more music to help orient you to the realities of slavery, liberation, Jim Crow and the ongoing struggle against racism?
“Freedom (featuring Rissi Palmer): Juneteenth remix” by Gangstagrass.
Take action. Celebrate and create space for Black power, creativity, and joy, while fighting for racial justice, equality, and equity.
If you are white, like me, know that it is not enough to “not be” racist; we must be visibly and audibly anti-racist. It takes work, but there are some great guides, including:
How to be an anti-racist by Ibram X. Kendi (Penguin Random House, 2019)
Me and white supremacy by Layla F. Saad (Sourcebooks, 2020)
The Great Unlearn, a self-paced course developed by Rachel Cargle, available via Patreon.
Want to donate time or money to support organizations fighting systemic racism? In honour of Juneteenth, here are just a few of the many worthy American organizations working in the courts, in the arts, and in the streets.
#BlackLivesMatter was founded in the United States in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. It has grown into the Black Lives Matter Foundation, a global organization in the U.S., United Kingdom and, my home country, Canada.
Sign up for updates on how you can work with #BLM to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”
P.S. Wondering about the photo promoting this post? It depicts a Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration in Texas in 1900. (The Portal to Texas History, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)