For a long duration, the history of Juneteenth has been overshadowed by the Fourth of July. And while many Americans grew up with pleasant memories of consuming sausages, observing pyrotechnics, and wearing the hues of the American flag to commemorate the nation’s liberty, the reality is that every American wasn’t completely liberated (or even remotely close to it) on July 4, 1776. In reality, Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and writer of the Declaration of Independence, possessed 180 slaves at that time (and enslaved over 600 Black individuals throughout his lifespan). Slavery persisted unabolished for an additional 87 years, and even then, it took two more years for all slaves to eventually obtain their freedom on June 19, 1865 — now acknowledged as Juneteenth.
The Recapitulation of Juneteenth
In 1863, President Lincoln endorsed the Emancipation Proclamation that asserted the freedom of all “individuals held as slaves” within the disloyal Confederate states “henceforward shall be free.” Prepared to grasp something that may have been excluded from your academic materials? While this was an enormous accomplishment for Black individuals (the Proclamation implied liberation for over 3 million slaves), emancipation did not apply to all slaves. It solely pertained to regions under Confederate rule and had no effect on slave-holding border states or rebel areas under Union governance.
The Texas Constitution of 1836 also extended extra safeguards to slaveholders while further circumscribing the rights of slaves. With minimal Union presence in Texas, numerous slave proprietors elected to migrate to the state with their enslaved individuals, thereby allowing slavery to persist. However, on June 19, 1865, U.S. Army officer and Union major general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, proclaiming that all slaves were officially liberated — a modification that forever influenced 250,000 Black lives.
The Importance and Methods of Observing Juneteenth
Juneteenth, abbreviated as “June 19,” commemorates the conclusion of lawful enslavement in America and represents the fortitude and resilience of Black Americans. And on June 17, 2021, the White House (finally) proclaimed Juneteenth a federal holiday. This celebration is not only connected to African American history but it is directly interwoven into the fabric of American history. In the midst of contemporary civil unrest and heightened racial tensions, Juneteenth (also recognized as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, or Jubliee Day) has rightly gained a greater, even global, spotlight.
To aid in capturing the authentic essence, significance, and history of Juneteenth, below is a compilation of podcasts, books, documentaries, movies, and TV shows for you to explore—not solely in observance of Juneteenth, but beyond the holiday. While this roster of recommendations is not exhaustive, it will hopefully empower you to delve further into the untold tales of Black uprisings in order to elevate Black voices and advocate for genuine equality for all.
Courtesy of NPR
Podcasts to Add to Your List
Louder Than a Riot
Presented by Sidney Madden and Rodney Carmichael, Louder Than a Riot investigates the connection between the emergence of hip-hop and the mass incarceration system in America. Each episode hones in on the story of an artist to analyze different facets of the penal system that disproportionately impacts Black Americans, thereby reshaping negative narratives about hip-hop and its associations with the African American community. (According to the NAACP, Black individuals are incarcerated at a rate over five times higher than their White counterparts.) This podcast employs a genre of music that has been cherished by individuals from diverse backgrounds to expose the recurring instances of police brutality, discriminatory legal tactics, and demeaning media portrayals that many Black Americans have witnessed. You can listen to Louder Than a Riot on NPR One, Apple, Spotify, and Google.
Into the United States
MSNBC’s podcast Into America premiered in the spring of 2020 as a show about politics and policy. The show’s creators shifted the focus of the show to the Black encounter in the United States, with the hope of sharing “the tales the nation needs to listen to in a moment [everyone needs] to hear them.” Throughout each show, host Trymaine Lee interviews a brand new guest about a subject that impacts the Black community. Anticipate feeling both educated and entertained during the episodes, which have previously covered the circumstances in Texas’ state prisons, influential Black fashion designers, the discussion surrounding Kanye West’s mental health, and more. Listen to Into the United States on Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Castbox, or TuneIn.
More podcasts to pay attention to:
Courtesy of Amazon
Works of Fiction to Read
Queenie By Candice Carty-Williams
Recognized as one of the Time’s 100 essential books of 2019, Candice Carty-Williams’ courageous debut follows Queenie Jenkins, a Jamaican-British woman attempting to strike a balance between two entirely distinct cultures while not genuinely fitting into either.
At her position as a newspaper journalist, she is constantly compelled to compare herself to her Caucasian colleagues. Then, amidst the chaos of her day-to-day life, her long-standing Caucasian partner decides to request a “hiatus.” In an effort to recover from her chaotic breakup, the 25-year-old reporter veers from one dubious choice to another, all while attempting to determine her purpose in life — an inquiry that most individuals will find relatable. The candid and unfiltered novel captures the essence of being a Black woman existing in predominantly Caucasian environments when your world is crumbling apart. Although the intelligent yet tender main character copes with mental health challenges, internalized racism, and workplace prejudice, she ultimately discovers the fortitude to piece it all back together.
The Most Compassionate Lie By Nancy Johnson
An esteemed choice for book clubs, The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson narrates the tale of engineer Ruth Tuttle and her voyage to reconcile a past filled with shame and concealed secrets, all aimed at building a family of her own. Taking place during the Great Recession and the dawn of a new era of optimism following President Obama’s initial presidential victory, this novel tackles issues of race, social class, and the dynamics of familial bonds. Despite her husband’s eagerness to start a family, Ruth remains uncertain, haunted by the decision she made as an adolescent to abandon her son. Consequently, she returns to her estranged relatives in Ganton, Indiana, a town ravaged by the recession, in order to find solace in her history. This process ultimately compels her to confront her inner demons, uncover deep-rooted lies within her family, and confront the racially divided town she escaped from years ago. The Kindest Lie brilliantly captures the intricate nuances of growing up in a Black, working-class family in America and explores the profound interconnections between race and social class.
Additional literary works of fiction to explore:
Provided by Amazon
Educational and Informative Books to Analyze
The Modern Jim Crow By Michelle Alexander
Michelle Alexander’s esteemed work, The New Jim Crow, a New York Times bestseller (having remained on the bestseller list for nearly 250 weeks), delves into the racial disparities faced by Black men in relation to mass incarceration within the United States. Alexander, an accomplished author, civil rights advocate, and legal scholar, presents a compelling case that the American criminal justice system, by unfairly targeting Black men through the “war on drugs” and sowing destruction within communities of color, perpetuates a modern form of racial control (dubbed the new Jim Crow) while still claiming to uphold colorblindness as an ideal. Initially published in 2010, The New Jim Crow has garnered references in legal rulings and has become a staple in communal and academic readings.
The Following Blaze By James Baldwin
Crafted by the highly respected wordsmith, poet, and advocate, James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time represents a poignant appraisal of race relations in mid-20th century America. Garnering nationwide acclaim upon its initial release in 1963, the book comprises of two heartfelt “letters” (essentially insightful essays) that encapsulate Baldwin’s perspectives on the dire conditions faced by Black Americans.
The initial symbol is a remarkably sincere yet sympathetic caution to his youthful nephew concerning the dangers of being African American in the United States and the “distorted reasoning of racial discrimination.” The subsequent and most notable symbol is addressed to all citizens of the United States. It imparts a grave warning regarding the devastating consequences of racial discrimination in America — and a great deal of it, regrettably, resonates very accurately in the present time. Baldwin’s composition does not evade any of the unsightly realities regarding the African American struggle. It holds all of its readers responsible through introspection and an appeal for advancing development.
Additional works of nonfiction to read:
Courtesy of IMDb
Films and TV Shows to View
Transformation, the Netflix documentary based in part on Michelle Obama’s bestselling autobiography, provides an intimate glimpse into the former First Lady’s life before and after her eight years in the White House. It takes viewers behind the scenes of her book tour; presents a sneak peek into her relationship with her husband, former president Barack Obama; and captures genuine moments with her daughters, Malia and Sasha. As the United States’ inaugural Black FLOTUS, Michelle inspired women of all backgrounds with her stunning intelligence, courageous determination, and infectious optimism. The Transformation documentary illustrates her narrative of diligence, resilience, and triumph.
Two Distant Strangers
This Academy Award–winning short film is a must-watch for, well, everyone. And considering that it’s a Netflix original and merely 30 minutes in duration, there’s truly no justification for not adding Two Distant Strangers to your queue. The movie follows the protagonist as he experiences a heart-wrenching encounter with a White police officer repeatedly in a time loop. Despite its weighty subject matter, Two Distant Strangers remains light-hearted and uplifting while providing audiences an inner glimpse into the everyday reality faced by many Black Americans — a perspective that is particularly significant in the wake of the tragic slayings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others. Two Distant Strangers finds itself at the intersection of confronting the harsh truths of the present and upholding a hopeful determination for the future.
Additional movies and episodes to watch:
Individuals to Follow
Alicia Garza is an organizer, writer, public speaker, senior advisor of strategy for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and principal at Black Futures Lab. However, Garza’s already-impressive portfolio doesn’t end there: She is widely recognized for co-founding the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Since the emergence of BLM, she has become a influential voice in the media.
to gain insights into her efforts to eliminate police cruelty and aggression towards individuals of color who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. Can you perceive that? That’s Garza’s countless appeals for assistance in eradicating America’s historical baggage of racial prejudice and bias.
Ayọ Tometi (previously known as Opal Tometi) is an American advocate for human rights, organizer, and writer who is most recognized for her involvement in co-founding the Black Lives Matter movement (together with Garza) and her tenure as the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (the first national organization for immigrant rights in the United States focused on people of African descent). The acclaimed campaigner utilizes her voice and extensive influence to champion human rights worldwide and to educate individuals on such issues. Follow Tometi for a balanced fusion of actionable activism and empowering representation for Black girls — both of which will inspire you to rise from your seat and eagerly join her in making the world a better place.
Stay Connected with These Black Leaders as Well:
- Brittany Packnett Cunningham, activist, MSNBC analyst, and vice president of social impact at BET
- Tarana Burke, activist and founder of the Me Too movement
- Van Jones, host of The Van Jones Show on CNN, activist, and author
- Ava DuVernay, Emmy award-winning scribe, producer, and filmmaker
- Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, the mastermind behind the Loveland Foundation, a vital mental health resource for Black women
- Blair Imani, author, educator, historian, and advocate for mental wellness
- Alison Désir, runner, therapist, activist, author, and founder of Harlem Run
- Cleo Wade, artist, poet, and author
- Austin Channing Brown, author, speaker, and producer
- Rachel Ricketts, spiritual activist, consultant in creative justice, and author
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