Today marks the 156th year since the message of freedom was delivered to those enslaved in Texas, also known as Juneteenth (portmanteau of June and nineteenth)!! A celebration of emancipation, liberation, and Black Joy!!
And what is Juneteenth? Juneteenth refers to June 19th, 1865 the day when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas to inform the 250,000 enslaved Black people that they were free. Keep in mind the Emancipation Proclamation (which ended slavery) had went into effect January 1st, 1863 (also the start of watch night services), so Texas would not get this memo for almost two and half years later. And people wonder why Black people cannot wait for change! Why we are persistent about consistent upward and forward movement! Why are Black people not quick to trust, because of past failures and screw ups like what happened in Galveston, TX. Nevertheless, the chains are breaking and the truth is being revealed.
In a way there has been this sudden awakening regarding the Juneteenth holiday. Much like how the message of freedom was delayed in its delivery to those enslaved in Texas, one could say there is a delayed recognition (on a larger scale) of the Juneteenth holiday. With all of the the national protests, police violence, and continuous murder of Black and Brown bodies oflast year the U.S. would be reminded of past moments of resistance and endurance. This acknowledgement rebirth is what I like to think of as a memory survival. As Isabel Wilkerson writes in her excellent book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went.” And thank goodness the memory of Juneteenth will always be present, because we cannot afford to have any more delays, these are moments that we need right now and always!
So, when did I learn about Juneteenth, I remember it being brought up during one of my summer classes as an Upward Bound student, and in passing from one of my aunts who lives in Texas. But I would really learn about Juneteenth while attending Clark Atlanta University (Atlanta, GA) and while out grocery shopping and a young man handed me a flyer for a Juneteenth celebration that was set to take place. Outside of the above-mentioned instances, I did not have any previous knowledge. Now I am not surprised by this, nor am I surprised that many other Black folks are only just now aware of what Juneteenth is and its significance. Even though I may not be from Texas, I take Juneteenth as my Independence Day/Emancipation Day, because clearly July 4th is not!!
Juneteenth is not only a day to celebrate, but also another day to inform the masses, continue speaking out on injustices, and always a day to remember! It's also another excuse for me to celebrate my Blackness and create more ways to express Black joy and agency. This holiday is also an opportunity to instill values of self-improvement, racial uplift, and reclamation of the family unit. These values were personified through religious sermons and the singing of negro spirituals, reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, rodeos, and the preservation of slave food traditions and delicacies (ex. BBQ and soul food). Juneteenth is another holiday that allows Black folks to commune and fellowship and just be free with ourselves!! This freedom has been further expressed with the creation of various websites and the Juneteenth flag:
• Juneteeth.com (Founded by Clifford Robinson in 1997)
• National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) (Founded and chaired by the Rev. Ronald Meyers)
• Juneteenth Flag; Created in 1997 by activist and founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) Ben Haith, the flag consists of a star, burst, arc, and the colors red, white, and blue. According to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) the star is a nod to the Lone Star State (where Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1865), but also stands for the freedom of every Black American in all 50 states, the burst represents an outline surrounding the star meant to reflect a nova— or new star—this represents a new beginning for all, and the arc represents a new horizon, fresh opportunities and promising futures for Black Americans. The colors are also reminiscent of the United States flag, this was intentional to show that the enslaved African Americans and their descendants are also free Americans. Even in our symbols there is always a deep, layered meaning attached.
In 2021, Juneteenth has become more than just a holiday, but in many ways a movement!! Not only are school curriculums slowly changing, but we are also becoming more informed about the holiday through popular media. A few examples include:
• High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America [Netflix]: Episode 4, ‘Freedom’• Atlanta (FX Network): Season 1, Episode 9, 'Juneteenth' [Television]
• Black-ish (ABC): Season 4, Episode 1, 'Juneteenth'[Television]
• Miss Juneteenth (2020) [Film]
• Juneteenth Jamboree [Austin PBS]
And as of 2020, according to the Congressional Research Service all states, except Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota, recognize/celebrate Juneteenth in some sort of fashion. This personally became significant for me because upon moving to Virginia on last year Juneteenth became a permanent statewide holiday (following in the footsteps of Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania). The fact that Virginia made this a statewide holiday is truly significant considering the states past history and the fact that the state is known as being the capital of the Confederacy...Interesting how tides are beginning to change!!
In the end when I think about Juneteenth I am optimistic...I am hopeful...I am excited. Optimistic that one day it will become a national holiday, and that it will truly get the recognition that it deserves. Juneteenth is a holiday even worthy of being acknowledged internationally. Hopeful that the celebration of this holiday is not just for a moment or season, but for an infinity of lifetimes. Excited because with each passing day more and more people are learning about the importance and significance of Juneteenth!! Even if this is your first year, make sure it is not your last!!
Juneteenth Resource Guide*
Want to know what is the Juneteenth holiday? Looking for more information on the history of this African American holiday? Here is a brief resource guide to get you started! Check it out below:
Juneteenth Reading List
Television & Film Interpretations
*This list is a jumpstart to learning more about the Juneteenth holiday.
And just like that, March is here and Dr. Gipson have another set of book recommendations on deck! See this month’s list below:
Dr. Grace D. Gipson, PhD
This year’s celebration of Black History Month hit me a little different this time around. Not that I do not think about and enjoy the fact that we highlight the achievements and success of Black and African Diaspora people; I think I now ponder more about what Black History Month has become. Keep in mind, every February I prepare my mind for the year’s celebration, I become on high alert to see who is temporarily stepping up their efforts to celebrate Black History. Every year we see this rise in celebrating and acknowledging the Black/African American experience from various companies, organizations, schools/universities, businesses, etc. 2021 becomes even more on high alert with how the aforementioned are responding/reacting and celebrating this month due to last year’s protests and the many deaths that happened due to racially motivated violence, police brutality, and systemic oppression.
These days as an Assistant Professor in African American Studies, Black History Month is a day-to-day routine. As a matter of fact, I recently recall having a conversation with a couple of my colleagues about celebrating Black History Month.One asked, what should AFAM/AAS departments do to celebrate Black History Month? And I quickly responded with “we celebrate Black History Month 365, every semester, every academic year…we’re and AFAM department that’s what we do naturally.” As a kid, Black History Month was all about coloring pictures of historical figures (i.e. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Matthew Henson), watching an assortment of documentaries, listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech”, and participating in my church’s “Black History Month” presentation. In high school and college, the celebration shifted to getting deeper into the history and achievements of Black people. It also became an opportunity to have more discussions and conversations about the above with not just other Black people, but ALL people. I will say each phase of my life, up to this current moment has and always been about not just celebrating but staying informed, embracing a deeper sense of pride, continuous acknowledgement, and making sure other people realize this is not just a 28-day effort.
Starting out as “Negro History Week” in 1926 by historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson, his intentions were very clear…educate young African Americans about their own heritage, and the achievements of their ancestors. Woodson dedicated much of his life to ensure that history would be re-written and that the Black/African American population would not be ignored. He believed, "the achievements of the Negro properly set forth will crown him as a factor in early human progress and a maker of modern civilization." This challenge of inserting Black Americans into history was no easy task for Woodson as he and his colleagues struggled to meet the demand for course materials and other resources (sound familiar…). But this would not stop Woodson from doing the work (Officially the celebration became a month-long in 1976)! According to Woodson, making this effort a reality was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the [Black] race.
Many often ask why February, but Woodson selected this month due to the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two prominent figures whose historic achievements played a role in the African Americans population. Ultimately, what Woodson hoped is that the public celebrations moved beyond just simply being one week. For him Black History was never meant to be confined into one week, he actually sought for it to be eliminated and see that Black History became fundamental to American History.
Now what becomes interesting over the years is the critiques and naysayers of Black History Month. Some have argued that“Black History Month could reduce complex historical figures to overly simplified objects of ‘hero worship,’” and others have even described it as racist (this becomes very interesting how the celebration of achievements and triumphs is seen as racist…but that is for another time). Then you have specific critics like actors Morgan Freeman and Stacey Dash who criticized the concept of declaring one month as Black History Month. Freeman would note, “there is no White History Month and there should be no Black History Month…Black History is American History. While I find some slender truths to the above thought, unfortunately Freeman is not fully informed. Freeman also noted (and co-signed by Dash) that the only way to get rid of racism is to “stop talking about it” and this is where you completely lose me…It is not that easy. His critique is very much surface-level. It is actually quite the opposite. And even if we agree with pieces of Freeman’s argument, unfortunately not everyone feels the same way about Black History as American History. This is evident considering we still have to constantly remind people that Black Lives Matters! It would be amazing if Blackness and Black life was normalized, sadly we still have work to do when it comes to this endeavor.
As a federally recognized and global celebration (Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom celebrate Black History Month in October) in 2021, I realize more and more why Black History Month must exist. The celebration has moved beyond the classroom, textbooks are no longer the only source of information, Black History Month is in real time. Instagram in 2018 created its first ever Black History Month program, which featured various initiatives such as a #BlackGirlMagic partnership with Spotify and launching their#CelebrateBlackCreatives program. Various streaming platforms like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime highlight content that centers Black Voices; and in 2020 Target Corporation created a marketing campaign “Black Beyond measure” that features Black creators and entrepreneurs. Additionally, this year Apple launched a variety of ways to celebrate Black History Month through the App Store Black History Month Hub along with introducing the Black Unity Collection. Many of the above mentioned initiatives not only celebrate, acknowledge, and highlight Black culture but are also financially donating to numerous organizations as a part of “promoting and achieving” equality and civil rights nationally and globally. Although I am sometimes weary of these collaborations, my hope like Woodson, is that it becomes a part of the normal regular conversation and not just during a certain when you can say you satisfied your diversity requirement.
There is a never-ending well of knowledge as it relates to Black History and culture, and we are far beyond just simply only talking about enslavement and civil rights. We must continue to shine a light on the whole entire picture of African Americans. A wealth of knowledge awaits us, not just Black people but everyone!! We are not a monolith, but we are worthy to be celebrated!! As we reflect and close out another Black History Month celebration, be reminded that it will never be wrong to celebrate each year in February, but know that the fun can and does continue year-round!!
Matter fact, here are 28 things that you can do today and every other day of the year:
To find out more you can find Dr. Gipson on Twitter (@GBreezy20), Instagram (lovejones20), or at her website “Black Future Feminist” www.blackfuturefeminist.com .
Dr. Grace D. Gipson, PhD
Let’s Talk About Race-Resource Guide
~Dr. Grace D. Gipson, PhD
Over the past few months, we have been struggling through a global pandemic---one that has disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities---while also trying to find some sense of comfort and happiness. However, we as country and even the world have recently witnessed a national outpouring of anger, frustration, passion, and protests in response to the ongoing pain of racial injustice and police brutality. With the recent national attention regarding the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, it is essential to create dialogues about these events and how we make meaning of them to invest in a better society.
As stated by Black feminist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Thus, as we continue to have discussion in our schools, churches, community events, and our homes it is important that we engage in these differences, while simultaneously equipping ourselves and others. Having the knowledge can lead to fruitful conversation and some sort of change.
This knowledge can be found in a variety of resources, tools, books, films/documentaries, and community efforts.
Below you will see a guide that seeks to equip us with the knowledge in hopes to bring about change:
● The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture online portal- “Talking About Race”
● #SayHerName-AAPF https://aapf.org/shn-campaign
● Black Lives Matter https://blacklivesmatter.com/
● PBS NewsHour Extra (Lesson plan for grades 6-12 about the death of George Floyd)
● Black Lives Matter at School Curriculum Guide
● Teaching Tolerance https://www.tolerance.org/moment/racism-and-police-violence
● Embrace Race https://www.embracerace.org/
Graphic Novels/YA/Children’s Books
● Dear Martin (2017) ~Nic Stone
● The Poet X (2018) ~Elizabeth Acevedo
● Bayou (2009) ~Jeremy Love
● Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story About Racial Injustice (2018) ~Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins,and Ann Hazzard
● Saturday (2019) ~Oge Mara
● The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist (2017) ~Cynthia Levinson
● Each Kindness (2012) ~Jacqueline Woodson
● “Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injustice” (2018) ~Veronica Chambers
● Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (2020) ~Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi
● Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation (2020) ~Damian Duffy & John Jennings
● March [Trilogy] (2016) ~John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell
● The Hate U Give (2017) ~Angie Thomas
● ‘Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans’ ~Roland Laird w/Taneshia Nash
● Skin Like Mine (2016) ~LaTashia M. Perry
● I Am Enough (2018) ~Grace Byers
● Hair Love (2019) ~Matthew Cherry
● Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (2017) & Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History (2019) ~Vashti Harrison
● I Am Not Your Negro
● Do the Right Thing
● Fruitvale Station
● If Beale Street Could Talk
● The Hate You Give
● Get Out
● Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland
● Dear White People [Film & Netflix series]
● The 13th [Netflix]
● When They See Us [Netflix]
● Seven Seconds [Netflix]
● Time: The Kalief Browder Story [Netflix]
● See You Yesterday [Netflix]
● White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (2016) ~Carol Anderson
● How to Be An Antiracist (2019) ~Ibram X. Kendi
● Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools (2018) ~Monique Morris
● From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation (2016) ~Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
● Between the World and Me (2015) ~Ta-Nehisi Coates
● So you want talk about race (2019) ~Ijeoma Oluo
● White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism (2018) ~Robin Diangelo
● Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race (2017) ~Beverly D. Tatum
● The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Colorblindness (2020) ~Michelle Alexander
● Parable of the Sower (1993) ~Octavia E. Butler
● ‘Choke Hold’: Policing Black Men (2018) ~Paul Butler
● Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) ~Claudia Rankine
● Bad Feminist (2014 ) ~Roxane Gay
● Heavy: An American Memoir (2019) ~Kiese Laymon
● Racism Without Racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of Racial Inequality in America (2017) ~Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
● The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (2018) ~Richard Rothstein
● No Ashes in the Fire (2019) ~Darnell L. Moore
● 'When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir' (2020) ~Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
● 'Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower' (2019) ~Brittney Cooper
● 'Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism' (2018) ~Safiya Umoja Noble
This is not an end all, be all list, but meant to ignite and continue dialogues that can be difficult, but are very necessary. Hopefully, this list will also lead to the creation of building other resource guides that can be used in the fight against anti-Blackness and anti-racism.
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” ~Ella Baker
Dr. Grace D. Gipson, PhD