Main content

Diversity in the (Virtual) Stacks: Juneteenth

Posted on by Nick Okrent

Diversity in the Stacks aims to build library collections that represent and reflect the University’s diverse population. 

The Emancipation Proclamation — the executive order which abolished slavery in the Confederacy — went into effect on January 1, 1863. However, the news was kept from enslaved African Americans living in Texas until June of 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with 2,000 federal troops.

On June 19, 1865, from the balcony of the Ashton Villa, Granger read General Order No. 3:

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.

“Juneteenth” was celebrated in Texas on June 19 of the next year, and the annual holiday slowly spread through the South.

Violent reprisals and disastrous economic conditions led to subdued public acknowledgement of Juneteenth in the early 20th century, but a resurgence of awareness coinciding with Black Pride movements began in the 1960s. In the 1990s, national awareness of Juneteenth rose through prominent museum exhibitions and the posthumous publication of Ralph Ellison's novel, Juneteenth

Juneteenth remains unfamiliar to many outside the African American community, but within it Juneteenth has long been a source of joy, memory, and solidarity. And recognition is growing: the City of Philadelphia has declared it an official holiday, and the University of Pennsylvania has designated June 19, 2020 as a day for the Penn community “to reflect on what we can do individually and collectively to dismantle systemic and structural barriers to equality.”

The Libraries celebrates this Juneteenth with words spoken and texts written by African Americans who have preserved the holiday and fought for its official recognition.


Oral Histories
The monumental HistoryMakers archive of nearly 3000 interviews of African Americans including 95 in which people discuss Juneteenth in their own lives:

"Everywhere where Texans move, they observe Juneteenth. California, Denver, wherever Texans move they observed Juneteenth, even in — it's observed in Ghana, West Africa. . . . The American who organized it was from Texas. But we take our traditions wherever we move. . . . And it is a state holiday as well. So yes, we have kept it alive." Emma Rodgers, Entrepreneur

"I guess a part of the black consciousness movement in the late '60s, early '70s resurrected Juneteenth as a celebration in cities around the country. . . . This new kind of consciousness was arising in the late '60s. It wasn't really popular to talk about slavery before then." Norma Adams-Wade, Journalist

"It was definitely a Texas holiday, but I'm glad so many other states are joining in, even passing legislation. And we will make it a national holiday. If God leaves breath in my body and people keep working like they're working." Albert Edwards, State Representative who initiated the passing of the bill to recognize Juneteenth in Texas


African American Newspapers
Hundreds of articles in African American newspapers dating from the nineteenth century document feelings and events related to Juneteenth.  They can be read in newspapers available through Proquest Historical Newspapers and, for more recently published African American newspapers, Ethnic Newswatch.

Today, Juneteenth remains a time for families and communities to reconnect, to remember the past and to look forward to the future. We should, however, celebrate African American freedom every day in our thoughts and actions while encouraging self-development, tolerance, teamwork, and respect for all cultures. Los Angeles Sentinel, June 10, 1999. A.15

As we have for years, we celebrate Juneteenth through food, prayer and festivities honoring a rich tradition that continues to promote education and self-improvement. We've seen this holiday take . . . on a national and even global presence with a mission to promote African American culture and respect for all cultures. But as we continue to cultivate knowledge and appreciation of our history and reflect upon the monumental challenges that our ancestors faced in fighting for freedom from bondage, we must also consider the ways in which the Black community continues to be under the threat of hate, xenophobia, and bigotry. Washington Informer, June 27, 2019. 29


Government Documents
Proquest Congressional provides transcripts from the Congressional Record, in which politicians have repeatedly recognized the significance of Juneteenth and, more recently, argued about whether it should be recognized as a Federal holiday:

"The challenges African-Americans are facing today are rooted in the system of slavery. After emancipation, segregation, a system of continued oppression, was imposed which maintained the disparities between blacks and whites. It fueled the animosities, resentments, and discrimination that would separate and divide this country. We are still grappling with the effects of slavery, racism, and discrimination. We must do more to undo the wrongs of that evil institution.

"On this Juneteenth, let this great country come together to reflect on the role slavery has played in our system today." Representative Charles B. Rangel in the House of Representatives, June 20, 2005

 

 

 

 

Related