For most Americans, Juneteenth became a national holiday just 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 debut novel, although fiction, would still be filled with truths. It did not disappoint. I learned about Juneteenth, the Oklahoma massacre, and life in turn-of-the-century New Orleans.
Coincidentally, this happened just as I had relocated to Washington, DC. DC had been observing and celebrating Juneteenth for many years, so I was able to experience, first-hand, what the holiday meant to those who knew, observed, and celebrated. It was a joyous day filled with speeches, reenactments, step shows, and choirs. In other words, it was a real American celebration — just like July 4th — but inclusive and filled with the contributions of African Americans.
June 19, 1865, marks the date that 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 would not become a nationally recognized federal holiday for 156 years.
History books have given us very little about Juneteenth. For me, it is my independence day.
July 4th is a great day, filled with parades, speeches, reenactments, sales, barbecues, and is a day off to reflect and appreciate the hard earned freedoms that we celebrate in these United States. I have always been a fan, mostly 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 older and learned more about our storied history, I felt more and more removed from the celebrations. People who looked like me continued to be owned for 100 years after the end of the Revolutionary War. It wasn’t until I learned about Juneteenth that I realized what had been missing for me from July 4th: Freedom.
So, when people ask me about the importance of Juneteenth and how to celebrate it, I say just like the other independence days. Celebrate with pride and parades and good food and family, but with greater knowledge, compassion, and a deeper understanding of the complexity of the United States. We are still not a perfect union, but we continue to try.
Knowledge is power. I recommend these books to learn more about Juneteenth and the spirit of the day:
Addy: An American Girl
series by Connie Rose Porter, 9781609584146 (Volume 1)
Freedom’s Gifts: A Juneteenth Story
by Valerie Wesley, illustrated by Sharon Wilson, 9780689802690
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom
by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, 9780689873768
I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl
by Joyce Hansen, 9780545266864
Teens and Young Adults
Crossing Ebenezer Creek
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 Juneteenth 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