For most Americans, Juneteenth became a national holiday last year. I discovered Juneteenth in a book of all places. It was Standing at the scratch line by Guy Johnson. Johnson is the son of the legendary Maya Angelou, so it stands to reason that his first novel, while fictional, would still be filled with truth. He did not disappoint. I learned about Juneteenth, the Oklahoma massacre and life in New Orleans at the turn of the century.
Coincidentally, this happened just when I had moved to Washington, DC. DC had been observing and celebrating June 19 for many years, so I was able to experience firsthand what the holiday meant to those who knew, observed, and celebrated. It was a joyous day filled with speeches, re-enactments, step shows and choirs. In other words, it was a true American holiday – just like the 4th of July – but inclusive and filled with contributions from African Americans.
June 19, 1865 marks the date Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce both the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. This auspicious occasion will not become a nationally recognized federal holiday for 156 years.
History books have given us very little about Juneteenth. For me, it’s my independence day.
The 4th of July is a great day, filled with parades, speeches, re-enactments, sales, barbecues, and it’s a day off to reflect and appreciate the hard-earned freedoms we celebrate in the United States. I’ve always been a fan, mainly because I learned early on that the first man to die in the Revolutionary War was Crispus Attucks, a black man. I felt like I was included in this day of celebration.
As I grew and learned more about our legendary history, I felt more and more removed from the celebrations. People who looked like me continued to be possessed for 100 years after the Revolutionary War ended. It wasn’t until I learned about Juneteenth that I realized what I had been missing since July 4: Freedom.
So when people ask me the importance of Juneteenth and how to celebrate it, I say like other Independence Days. Celebrate with pride and parades and good food and family, but with more knowledge, compassion, and a deeper understanding of the complexity of the United States. We’re not a perfect union yet, but we keep trying.
Knowledge is power. I recommend these books to learn more about Juneteenth and the spirit of the day:
Addy: An American
series by Connie Rose Porter, 9781609584146 (Volume 1)
The Gifts of Freedom: A History of June 19
by Valerie Wesley, illustrated by Sharon Wilson, 9780689802690
All different now: Juneteenth, the first day of freedom
by Angela Johnson, illustrated by EB Lewis, 9780689873768
Thought My Soul Would Rise and Soar: Patsy’s Diary, A Liberated Girl
by Joyce Hansen, 9780545266864
Teens and young adults
Ebenezer Creek Crossing
by Tonya Bolden, 9781681196992
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning
by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, 9780316453691
by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, Willian Huston and Jonathan Snipes, 9781534439870
between the world and me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates, 9780812993547
Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
by Ibram X. Kendi, 9781568585987
The Brightest Day: A June 19 Historical Romance Anthology
by Kianna Alexander, Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart and Piper Huguley, 9781519616470
by Annette Gordon-Reed, 9781631498831
Voices on Identity and Stopping Violence: A Juneteenth Performance Poetry Anthology
by Addie Marie Jones, 9781483623122