by Winn Wasson, Social Science Librarian
On June 19, 1865, news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally arrived in the last reaches of enslavement in Texas, nearly two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had, de jure, taken effect. Enslavement would still continue in some states that had remained in the Union, and enslavement's official end with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment would not occur until December 1865. However, formerly enslaved people in Texas and their descendants began annual celebrations of the anniversary of the arrival of the news, which they designated with the name Juneteenth. Beginning with Texas's establishment of Juneteenth as a state holiday in 1980 and with a handful of states following suit over the next four decades, the holiday entered the consciousness of the larger American public in the summer of 2020, during the nationwide demonstrations for racial justice and equity. In 2021, Congress passed and President Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which officially makes Juneteenth a federal holiday, the first new federal holiday since the creation Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 1986.
The Juneteenth flag was created by Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF). The white star in the center of the flag represents the Lone Star State of Texas, where the holiday originated, and African Americans in all 50 states. The bursting outline around the star is inspired by a nova, a term that astronomers use to mean a new star. On the Juneteenth flag, this represents a new beginning for the African Americans of Galveston and throughout the land. The curve that extends across the width of the flag represents a new horizon: the opportunities and promise that lay ahead for Black Americans. The red, white and blue represents the American flag, a reminder that enslaved people and their descendants were and are Americans.
Syracuse University Libraries has a number of resources for those interested in learning more, including:
- Closer to Freedom: enslaved women and everyday resistance in the plantation South by Stephanie M. H. Camp -- An examination of the everyday containment and movement of enslaved men and, especially, enslaved women, including the movement of bodies, objects, and information, The book explores the multi-dimensional and hidden culture of resistance by enslaved people.
- Juneteenth Texas: essays in African-American folklore by Francis Edward Abernethy (Editor); Alan Govenar (Editor); Patrick B. Mullen (Editor) -- Juneteenth Texas reflects the many dimensions of African American folklore. The personal essays are reminiscences about the past and are written from both Black and white perspectives. They are followed by essays which classify and describe different aspects of African American folk culture in Texas.
- Stony the Road: Reconstruction, white supremacy, and the rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates; Henry Louis Gates -- The abolition of enslavement after the Civil War is a familiar story, as is the Civil Rights revolution that transformed the nation after World War II. But the century in between remains a mystery: if emancipation sparked 'a new birth of freedom' in Lincoln's America, why was it necessary to march in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s America? Stony the Road uncovers the roots of structural racism in our own time, while showing how African Americans after enslavement combated it by articulating a vision of a 'New Negro' to force the nation to recognize their humanity and unique contributions to the United States.
- We Were Eight Years in Power: an American tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates -- In this collection featuring the landmark essay "The Case for Reparations" Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on race, Barack Obama's presidency and its jarring aftermath--including the election of Donald Trump. "We were eight years in power" was the lament of Reconstruction-era Black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this collection of essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a Black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America's "first white president." This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period--and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation's old and unreconciled history.
For more information, explore the Juneteenth: Readings for SU’s Observance of Black Liberation from Enslavement Research Guide.