Juneteenth 2021 and the work still to do

A still image of a 1920s Juneteenth celebration
A still image of a 1920s Juneteenth celebration, taken from one of two films by Solomon Sir Jones that feature Juneteenth events. (Beinecke Library)

For more than 150 years, Juneteenth celebrations across America have commemorated the end of slavery with cultural and educational events that reflect on the past while pointing toward a more equitable future.

Juneteenth recognizes the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when Union Army troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the freedom of enslaved people there. President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier, yet many areas of the country needed federal troops to uphold it.

Juneteenth is traditionally a day of hope and inspiration — a second independence day — with music, readings, and gatherings that celebrate community and recognize the extraordinary contribution our Black brothers and sisters have made to American life,” Secretary and Vice President for University Life Kimberly Goff-Crews said in a message. “For many, it is also a time for reflection.”

On Thursday, President Biden signed into law a bill establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, making it the first new U.S. federal holiday since the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. In the coming months, Yale will determine how best to celebrate and observe Juneteenth on the Yale campus in 2022.

This year, Yale honors the tradition of Juneteenth with resources and events that support local businesses, examine the history of slavery and emancipation in the United States, and take full measure of the remaining work needed to root out racism and injustice.

The Office of the Secretary and Vice President for University Life has assembled a variety of digital resources relating to Juneteenth. The resources include lectures by historian Shennette Garrett-Scott and Michelle Alexander (author of “The New Jim Crow”); a Feb. 25 panel discussion with students reflecting on the Yale and Slavery Research Project; and a piece from the Washington Post by investigative journalist Afi-Odelia Scruggs, “Five Myths About Juneteenth.”

Yale’s libraries and collections are another important source of educational enrichment and inspiration in the spirit of Juneteenth.

For example, the Beinecke Library has a pair of films by Solomon Sir Jones that show Juneteenth celebrations in Texas and Oklahoma in the 1920s. The Beinecke’s collections also include an address by Frederick Douglass delivered on April 16, 1883 in the Congregational Church in Washington, D.C. for the 21st anniversary of emancipation in the District of Columbia; and the gold pen used by President Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.

The gold pen used by Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation
The gold pen used by Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation in the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., 1863 Jan 1. (Yale University Library)

In addition, Yale’s manuscripts and archives holdings include the 1786 poem, “An Essay on Slavery,” written by Jupiter Hammon, who was born into slavery in New York and was the first published African American poet; and a page from the daybook of the Farmington Canal Company verifying that Black businessman William Lanson was the builder of New Haven’s portion of the Farmington Canal in the 1820s.

History and local businesses — and food — are part of a new Juneteenth event organized this year by Yale’s Afro-American Cultural Center.

From 2 to 6 p.m. on June 19, at New Haven’s Trinity Church on the Green (230 Temple St.), the center will offer a food tasting tour and history scavenger hunt around downtown New Haven. The center will be selling vouchers for food samplings at six local, Black-owned restaurants, including Sandra’s, Lalibela, The Anchor Spa, Caribbean Style Vegan, Smooth Creative Cuisine, and Soul De Cuba. One set of food vouchers is $6 for students and $10 for non-students; two sets of vouchers is $10 for students and $18 for non-students.

Organizers also will invite participants to take a self-guided walking tour/scavenger hunt of local Black, Indigenous, and Latinx historical sites. The event is open to the public.

There are so many layers here, relating to why this is important,” said Jaelen King, student assistant for civic engagement initiatives at the center, who has been working on the Juneteenth event with Sofia Lackiram, the center’s assistant director, Jennifer Tegegne ’23, and Ethelia Holt ’24.

On a basic level, it’s important to promote our local communities of color as we start getting back together after COVID-19,” King said. “But as we reconnect and reach out into the city, we want to connect with the Black, Indigenous, and Latinx history all around us.”

New Haven’s annual International Festival of Arts and Ideas will also host Juneteenth events, starting with a virtual opening ceremony at 1 p.m. on June 18.

On June 19, the festival’s Juneteenth events include a virtual storytelling and cooking class for families starting at 10:30 a.m. and “Visions of Our Future” virtual performances at 3 p.m. On June 20, starting at 10 a.m., there will be a series of 45-minute, virtual dance, stretching, and exercise classes hosted by the Artsucation Academy Network. The events are organized by the Official Juneteenth Coalition of Greater New Haven and Artsucation Academy Network and sponsored by the Mayor’s Neighborhood Vitality Grant Program.

As we mark the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth on Saturday, I will take time to reflect on the pain and progress of the last several months, the contribution of so many members of our community who are helping us to do better, and recommit to the important work ahead as, together, we address inequity and racism,” Goff-Crews said. “I hope you will join me.”

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Media Contact

Fred Mamoun: fred.mamoun@yale.edu, 203-436-2643