Juneteenth (short for “June 19th”) is widely celebrated as the official date marking the end of slavery in the United States. This holiday has deep Texas ties and, in fact, traces back to Galveston on June 19, 1865 when federal troops informed enslaved Black Americans that the war had ended and they were free. Texas was the last state to free enslaved African Americans. This was 2½ years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
In addition to celebrating with friends and family at virtual and live community events, we encourage you to read up on this important point in American history. Below is a listing of reading materials that cover the struggle for freedom and the post-Civil War era, as well as other aspects of the African American experience.
List provided by Gaila Sims
“The History and Meaning of Juneteenth”
What: Dr. Daina Berry provides an overview of the circumstances surrounding General Gordon Granger’s announcement on June 19, 1865 that enslaved people were finally, officially, free. Dr. Berry quotes from early twentieth century interviews with formerly enslaved men and women, who recounted their responses to the news of emancipation, and traces the history of Juneteenth celebrations across the state of Texas and beyond.
Who: Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, professor and chair of the Department of History at The University of Texas at Austin
Where: The New York Times
“What is Juneteenth?”
What: Rachel Winston, Daina Berry, and Kevin Cokley address common misconceptions about enslavement in Texas, the delay in sharing the official news of emancipation in the Lone Star State, and the importance of food in Juneteenth celebrations. Dr. Cokley notes the variety of forms Juneteenth festivities historically take, from cookouts and family reunions to lectures and exhibitions.
Who: Rachel Winston, Black Diaspora Archivist at the University of Texas Libraries, Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, professor and chair of the Department of History at The University of Texas at Austin; Dr. Kevin Cokley, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, and director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis at The University of Texas at Austin
Where: Life & Letters
“About the Black Skin We Live In”
What: For Hyperallergic’s “Juneteenth Edition,” Dr. Cherise Smith penned this moving piece about her family’s Southern roots, her grandparents’ migration to California, and her return to Texas as an adult. Grounding her essay in her work as an art historian, Dr. Smith explores her family’s generational relationships with the Lone Star State and how she guides her sons’ understanding of both the pain and joy of “becoming Black.”
Who: Dr. Cherise Smith, professor and chair of the Department of African & African Diaspora Studies, professor of art history, and executive director of the Art Galleries at Black Studies at The University of Texas at Austin
The Slave Narratives of Texas
What: Interviews assembled by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s have been reprinted in this collection, published originally in 1997. Chapter IX: Free at Last features several formerly enslaved men and women recalling June 19, 1865, including Felix Haywood who said, “Everybody went wild. We all felt like heroes, and nobody had made us that way but ourselves. We were free. Just like that, we were free.”
Who: Ron Tyler, former professor of history and director of the Texas State Historical Association at the University of Texas at Austin; and author Lawrence R. Murphy
Where: State House Press
What: Austin artist Deborah Roberts recounts how her family celebrated Freedom Day during her childhood, with special attention to her father’s slow and careful preparation of barbecue chicken, brisket and ribs. Along with her mouthwatering description of the cooking process, Roberts recalls her father’s early life in the Jim Crow South and the traditions he imparted to his children, traditions they continue to follow in their celebration of Juneteenth today.
Who: Deborah Roberts, Austin-based mixed media artist
Juneteenth Digital Collection
What: The Austin History Center holds some of the most treasured images of early Juneteenth gatherings in Texas, including photographs capturing an Emancipation Day Celebration Band carrying their instruments, African American people dressed in their finest attire at an outdoor picnic, and two men attending to a “Watermelon Wagon,” all from an Austin celebration in 1900. The collection also features an image of officers and directors of the “Emancipation Park Association,” community members who facilitated the purchase of private property specifically designated for the annual holiday.
Who: Austin History Center, the local history division of the Austin Public Library
Where: Austin History Center
Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket
What: This anthology traces the history and evolution of Texas barbecue, exploring the famed food’s role as the focal point of political events, church gatherings, and the uniquely Texan holiday of Juneteenth. In “Food and Foodways,” East Austin barbecue legend Ben Wash traces the link between enslaved cooking methods and the importance of barbecue at Juneteenth celebrations.
Who: Dr. Elizabeth Engelhardt, former professor of American studies at the University of Texas at Austin, current professor of Southern studies and American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Where: UT Press
For more articles by Ben Wash, visit the Southern Foodways Alliance Oral Histories
“Make Juneteenth a National Holiday Now”
What: Dr. Peniel Joseph advocates for the federal recognition of Emancipation Day in this opinion piece for CNN. In addition to suggesting that a national holiday would spark much-needed discussion of American racial history, Dr. Joseph argues for the symbolism of enshrining Juneteenth as a remembrance to enslaved African Americans, their labor, and their lives, in Texas and across the United States.
Who: Dr. Peniel Joseph, professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the Department of History, founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at The University of Texas at Austin
“Go Down Old Hannah:” The Living History of African American Texans
What: Authored by Naomi Mitchell Carrier, this collection of fifteen plays explores experiences of Black Texans through the medium of living history. Divided into sections tracing the history of African Americans throughout their presence in the state, several chapters focus specifically on Emancipation Day, including “Slav’ry Chain Done Broke at Las’” and “Juneteenth at the George Ranch.”
Who: Naomi Mitchell Carrier, founder and executive director of the Texas Center for African American Living History
Where: UT Press
“Destruction of Black Communities in the Name of Progress”
What: Dr. Kevin Foster accounts for an aspect of the 1865 Emancipation decree that often receives less attention: the limitation of movement and assembly of newly freed people. While acknowledging Juneteenth’s significance in the lives of African American Texans, Dr. Foster explores the racial constraints that accompanied freedom in the decades following the Civil War, focused especially on the experiences of Black Austinites.
Who: Dr. Kevin Foster, associate professor in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, Department of Anthropology, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin
Juneteenth: The Story Behind the Celebration
What: This recent publication delves into the history of Juneteenth, explaining its origins, its early iterations, and its transformation from regional event to national celebration. Authored by University of Texas alum Ed Cotham, “Juneteenth: The Story Behind the Celebration” offers an expansive survey of Emancipation Day and its significance across the United States.
Who: Edward T. Cotham, Jr., chief investment officer for the Terry Foundation
Where: State House Press