While it’s pretty well known that June is Pride month for the LGBTQ+ community (and I’ll be revisiting the topic of Pride again in a few weeks), there is another less commonly known celebration coming up later this week: Juneteenth. Because it is less well known, I want to spend a little time today talking about the history of Juneteenth and how the library can help you learn about and celebrate the holiday this year.
Called Juneteenth as a mash up of June and 19th, it is an annual celebration of the effective end of slavery in the United States on June 19th, 1865. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued two-and-a-half years earlier and the war had ended two months previously, but information traveled slowly (and in some cases was hidden from people by slaveholders or local governments so they could keep exploiting slaves). The news of freedom was not shared with the last groups of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas until Union soldiers arrived on June 19th. While slavery was not technically completely illegal in the United States until December of 1865 with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, and even then some slaves were not freed until months later, June 19th is largely celebrated as the end of slavery for Black Americans.
Since 1865, Juneteenth has been celebrated in some capacity every year since in Texas and throughout the United States (and sometimes in Mexico and parts of South America, too!). The first celebration took place in Galveston in 1866, and largely included church service, singing, and gifting of clothing, which was used to signify their freedom. Celebrations continued but waned in the early and mid 1900s due to the lack of education for the general public about Black history, the economic collapse, and later WWII. Even so, it was still celebrated in cities throughout the country and gained steam once again during and after the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The state of Texas has officially celebrated Juneteenth since 1980, and over time it has been recognized by 48 states (including Oregon’s legislature unanimously passing a law on June 14th to make Juneteenth a state holiday). It has grown to include feasts, street fairs, rodeos, dances, educational speakers, trips to Galveston, and Miss Juneteenth pageants. Juneteenth is even being celebrated in our own community this coming Saturday in Medford!
What does this have to do with libraries, you might ask? Well, part of the reason the end of slavery took so long to reach Texas after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War was because slave owners and government officials of previously Confederate states withheld information about the proclamation from slaves. Similarly, part of the reason for the decline in celebration in the early 1900s was due to information about Black history and holidays intentionally being withheld from textbooks written for public classrooms. This is pretty hugely antithetical to core goals of libraries, like connecting their communities to information and removing barriers to access, and we can use our research skills and community outreach and access to information to challenge this pattern. Libraries are by no means perfect and have historically been complicit in upholding slavery and racism (check out this podcast with author and professor Sean Moore for more details about the intersections of slavery and early libraries), but we can do our best to correct these mistakes by contributing to a more equitable society today and provide opportunities for education, awareness, and celebration.
Libraries can (and do!) offer opportunities to learn about Black history, slavery, and Juneteenth through collections, a variety of programming, displays, and more. From our virtual programs on historical events like the Tulsa Race Massacre to a booth at the Juneteenth celebration this weekend, Jackson County Library Services wants to celebrate this Juneteenth with you. Not much of a program or festival type? Check out these Juneteenth reading lists for adults and children to learn and celebrate from home. Juneteenth is a time to celebrate the end of slavery as well as a time to reflect on how far we have come and how far we still have to go. No matter what your personal relationship is to the history of Juneteenth, it’s a day worth celebrating!