Friday, June 18, 2021

Juneteenth

Bruce Janu, the new librarian at Hersey High School, has been teaching history for 30 years. Over the course of those years, he has given numerous presentations about race throughout the district and has written on the topic as well. This blog post is his reflection on Juneteenth and may not reflect the opinions of others in the Academic Resource Center.


Juneteenth.

It's been a long time coming.

For the first time, Juneteenth is not only a state holiday, but a federal holiday as well. It is a recognition of the date on June 19, 1865 when the last enslaved people in Texas were informed that they were free.  Juneteenth has been a celebration in the African-American community for over 150 years, first throughout the South and then, with the Great Migration in the 20th century, throughout the rest of the United States. Although "Juneteenth" has been more colloquial, the various celebrations were known as "Emancipation Day" or "Jubilee Day," among others.

Juneteenth is also celebrated in a region of Mexico.

Emancipation Day Celebration Band in Texas, 1900
Emancipation Day Band, Texas, 1900. Public Domain.

Here's the thing, though, that illuminates the way history has been told in this country: more Americans know about the Alamo and its mythologized narrative than they do about Juneteenth. In fact, in 30 years of teaching history, I have never had a textbook that even mentioned the word "Juneteenth."

And that is endemic of the way textbooks are created. Textbooks are written to sell as many copies as possible and some states, such as Texas, select the textbooks for the entire state. In Texas, textbook selection is a political process. Therefore, textbook companies skew their textbooks to make them more palpable to politicians in Texas. Unfortunately, that means that textbooks are also not strictly for the purpose of telling history or fostering critical thinking.

In spite of the fact that Juneteenth began in Texas, it is not something that has been included in textbooks.

Although I applaud the fact that Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, I feel that it is important to note that this holiday cannot be co-opted. This celebration was created by and for African-American people.

In other words, it is not my holiday to celebrate.

Instead, for many of us -- including myself -- this should be a holiday to reflect on history; to contemplate the weight of history, and explore the ways in which history has been hidden, whitewashed or misrepresented.  It is a time to look at this history from the perspectives of the people who created the holiday in the first place.

And that is ultimately the purpose of libraries. Libraries house not only history, but perspectives and stories.  Books allow us to view the world through eyes that are not our own. Books are a medium to open the door to new worlds and new perspectives; to see life as others have seen it. 

Books are the portals to empathy and understanding. 

We have several books in the ARC that can be a starting point for reflection on Juneteenth and what it means. Take a look at this list, or go to this link.



------

For further reading:

"Juneteenth is Not for Everyone" by Renee Nishawn Scott via Medium

"Why Schools Haven't Taught About Juneteenth, and Why They Should" by John McDonald via The University of Southern California

"How One State History Textbook Erases the Stories of Black and Hispanic Texans" by Emily McCullar via Texas Monthly

"Texas Revises History Education, Again" by Kritika Agarwal via The American Historical Association

"Race and the Whitewashing of History in Our Textbooks" by Bruce David Janu via Medium

"The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth" via The Smithsonian Institution

"Explainer: The Story of Juneteenth, the New Federal Holiday" via The Associated Press

"Biden Signs Bill Making Juneteenth a Federal Holiday" by Kevin Freking via The Associated Press

Juneteenth.com






0 comments:

Post a Comment