There is a growing collection of books on Juneteenth, aka June 19,th 1865 thanks in part to celebrations catching a fire around the world. Formerly known as “Jubilee” day or “Emancipation” Day, celebrations were initiated in Texas and have traveled all the way to Ghana! Carving out another day to be in celebration of cultural traditions is good cause to pause, review, and continue to expand on what we have.
However, I must start with a confession. There was a time when I was more disturbed and lost in the fact that our enslaved ancestors received the announcement about freedom from slavery, late.
Late…, hmmmph (said with hand on hip).
"They could not even get the date right", I thought in frustration. Why should we dignify a late date with a celebration? Everything seemed to have a caveat or disclaimer. This timing distraction did not allow me to take pride in the fact that our ancestors did seize the moment when made aware, to breathe, celebrate and later embrace and defend our freedom. Taking the time to define our own happiness is an expression of our humanity and dignity. Upon further research, I found that though it was considered “late” outside of Texas, for all intents and purposes, it was right on time in Texas because slave owners rejected the Emancipation Proclamation signed in 1863, and were still embattled with union soldiers months before the notification. Southern plantation owners a.k.a. slave owners were fighting for their “property” and the too-long-lived exploitation of a people treated as “cattle” or “dogs.”
Books on Juneteenth
Wait a minute, this sounds familiar. At once, I felt history was repeating itself. I imagined that just as Trump and his henchmen refused to accept the results of the U.S. election of 2020, those slave owners likely just turned a blind eye to the signed treaty because it would mean the destruction of the “peculiar” and brutal institution as it has been referred to in classic watered down text books.
Therefore, the enslavement period was actually extended in Texas because slave owners had done their version of “storming the capitol building” and holding on to their ill gotten gains. At one point, slave owners' touted that their slaves were happy and docile and that freedom had no effect on them. As discussed in “On Juneteenth” a condensed historical read by Pulitzer prize author Annette Gordon-Reed, some slave owners were so distraught that they initiated violence against the formerly enslaved and whipped them sometimes until death.
Listening to a primary resource on the Library of Congress website allowed me to practically taste and touch the enslavement experience. It was chilling. There's no doubt that the enslaved would rather be free. Hermond Norwood is interviewing a 100-year-old man named Fountain Hughes. At one point in the interview (18:51 minutes), they had this exchange:
Formerly Enslaved: Colored people’s who are free oughta be awful thankful.
Some of them now would rather be slaves.
Interviewier: Which would you rather be…?
Formerly Enslaved: “…Which would I rather be? You know what I’d rather do?
If I thought or had any idea that I’d ever be a slave again, I’d take a gun and just end it all right away. Because you’re nothing but a dog. You’re not a thing but a dog.
That says it all. At WHATEVER time word got around would be cause for extreme jubilation and celebration.
This recording is taken from the library of Congress' website here. I encourage you to listen to the entire interview which is almost 30 minutes long. He recalls his enslavement experience with great detail. Hearing his voice inflection gives it all new meaning.
 There is an excellent oral history on Juneteenth presented by historian Dr. Shennette Garrett-Scott here.
We have partnered with MahoganyGallery.com to host an event with her on June 17, 2021. Here's more info on the event at this link.
The new book, “How the Word is Passed,” coming out June 2021 written by Clint Smith has a chapter called, "Juneteenth on Galveston Island." Smith puts our feet on the ground in Texas as the announcement was made that June 19, 1865 and fleshes out the details which add another level of appreciation for the time frame and what a shock this must have been to the enslaved. Here’s a video trailer for the book here.
I highly recommend all of these books mentioned in this post if you’d like to delve deeper into a part of history some would rather forget. Visit our Category on this topic here which includes flags and books. All are available at Afrware Books, Co. If not on the site, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.