The importance of June 19, or Juneteenth, in U.S. history, has come into sharp focus on the American landscape in the last couple of weeks. But why, exactly, is Juneteenth so significant?
According to Wikipedia:
“Juneteenth is an unofficial American holiday and an official Texas state holiday, celebrated annually on the 19th of June in the United States to commemorate Union army general Gordon Granger’s reading of federal orders in the city of Galveston, Texas, on 19 June 1865, proclaiming all slaves in Texas were now free. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had formally freed them almost two and a half years earlier, and the American Civil War had largely ended with the defeat of the Confederate States in April, Texas was the most remote of the slave states, with a low presence of Union troops, so enforcement of the proclamation had been slow and inconsistent.”~Juneteenth
Much to my shame, I admit I didn’t realize the significance of the date even after it came to my attention a handful or so years ago. While I consider myself “woke” and not racist, I look back on my life and realize that I’m not as “woke” as I always thought. Especially when I check my inner dialog.
As a kid and young adult, I did a lot of reading. I was always the student who did extra-curricular reading if a topic REALLY intrigued me. That reading was almost always a novel that affirmed what I had already known from the history books. When I learned about medieval Europe, I read historical novels set in those times. When I learned about WWI and WWII, I read stories about people living during the wars. The same with the pilgrims reaching the shores of the New World and meeting the Indigenous people.
I read historical novels about American history, too, but very few (if any) from the perspective of the slave or native people. What accounts I learned and what stuck was, in hindsight, whitewashed. I didn’t search out material from authors of color until I was older. Today’s reading list includes novels by authors such as Octavia E. Butler and N.K. Jemisin.
I still have my own internal biases to face, as do many of us. Knowing I have a measure of racism makes me more aware when it surfaces, and that is when I know I need to check myself.
Here’s a list of additional reading if you are interested.
- What is Juneteenth? SUSLA history professor talks Black History, the trauma of racism
- Why celebrating Juneteenth is more important now than ever
- History: What is Juneteenth?
- Juneteenth takes on added meaning as nation remembers George Floyd, leaders push for federal holiday
- 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro
- What Is Juneteenth?