Juneteenth

Holes In Our History

It’s not every day that you get to witness a historic event. Today is such a day. June 19th, referred to as “Juneteenth,” is a federal holiday - for the first time.

For a long while, Juneteenth had been one of those cultural phenomena that defined the differences in our nation - well known to many Black Americans, largely unknown to the rest of the country. It was another hole in our history. The day celebrates freedom from slavery - a potent reminder that many Americans today are descendants of those for whom the original Independence Day (July 4, 1776) did not signify independence at all - but rather further decades of cruel and murderous servitude that took a bloody Civil War to end. And even then, the injustices towards Black Americans have endured. 

It is a hopeful sign that, in recent years, Juneteenth has risen in the broader national consciousness. That it became a federal holiday is an important milestone. However, at the same time, potent conservative political forces are seeking to expunge from our classrooms much of the context and echoes of America’s racial injustice that today’s celebration is meant to mark. If Juneteenth loses its meaning, if it becomes another excuse for a three day weekend, then America will be the weaker for it.

With this in mind, today we are sharing three very different offerings for our weekend watch. 

First up is a stellar history of Juneteenth and the broader current cultural contexts from Vox, featuring Professor Karols Hill of the University of Oklahoma. 

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The subject of Independence Day and Black Americans was the inspiration for one of the most important speeches in American history - Frederick Douglass’s "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” The great abolitionist orator and escaped slave issued his clarion call for justice and an accurate reckoning with American history on July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York. You can read the full text here and context for the speech here. But I also wanted to share an inspired video from NPR where Douglass’s own descendants read from his speech. Moving. Inspiring.

And finally, I wanted to share a little music to celebrate this day. The choice is “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black National Anthem, courtesy of the Spelman College Glee Club.

Here are the lyrics to follow along if you wish:

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won

Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast

God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land
Our native land

I hope you find these videos as worthy of your time and attention as I have. Please let us know what you think about it and the general idea of “holes in our history” in the comments section. And add your own nominations for moments, people, books, artistic expressions or other elements from history that we need to resurrect in our national consciousness.

Thank you all, as always,

—Dan and Steady Team

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