Celebrating Juneteenth with the Solomon Sir Jones films

This recording of a 1925 Juneteenth parade in Texas is from the Solomon Sir Jones film archive of 1920s African-American life, held by Yale’s Beinecke Library.

The Rev. Solomon Sir Jones recorded this 1925 Juneteenth parade in Texas. A collection of his films, 29 in all, held by Yale’s Beinecke Library, provides a rich record of African-American life in the 1920s. The full collection has been digitized for free, public viewing.

An African-American Baptist minister, successful businessman, and filmmaker, Jones was born to emancipated parents in Tennessee in 1869. He grew up in the South before moving to Oklahoma in 1889. There he became an influential minister, building and pastoring 15 churches, and was head of the Boyd Faction of Negro Baptists in America.

IndieWire called Jones’ films “the most extensive film records we have of Southern and urban black life and culture at the time of rapid social and cultural change for African Americans during the 1920s, the very beginning of the Great Migration, which transformed not only black people as a whole, but America itself.” His films most extensively document the everyday life of African-American communities in Oklahoma, but they also include scenes from Jones’ trips to nine other states, New York City, and abroad — France, England, Palestine, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and parts of Northern Africa. His subjects were similarly wide-ranging: church services, sporting events, black colleges, Masonic meetings, families at home, and African-American oil barons — plus a transcontinental footrace and, of course, Juneteenth celebrations.

Juneteenth is the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States and celebrating the freedom of African Americans. The date references June 19, 1865 — the day Major General Gordon Granger of the U.S. Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the more than two-and-a-half-year-old Emancipation Proclamation. Many Texan enslavers had defied it, continuing to hold enslaved people captive for years after they’d been legally freed. As of June 2020, Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in 48 of the 50 U.S. states. For decades, activists have been advocating for Juneteenth to become a national holiday.

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