Understanding Juneteenth: 20 Resources to Help Broaden Your Perspective

Category: News
Posted: 6/17/2021 | Read Time: 7min
Last Updated: 7/6/2021

As the world underwent a racial reckoning last summer, Juneteenth came into stark clarity for scores of non-Black people who perhaps didn’t fully understand the significance of the holiday.

Juneteenth commemorates the official end of slavery when, on June 19, 1865, federal troops marched into Texas — the most remote of the slave-owning states in the Confederate South — and announced that all enslaved Black people were free. The news, which came two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, effectively abolished slavery in Texas, sparking a 155-year tradition of celebrations, picnics, parades and more that endures today.

As we celebrate with the Black community this Juneteenth, we also recognize that there’s a lot more work to be done to amplify homeownership rates among Black people and create equitable and fair housing practices that eschew discrimination and bias. Education is a good place to start. Here are 25 resources you can use to educate yourself about Juneteenth and the Black experience in America.

Disclaimer: Think of this list as a starting point; it’s not exhaustive. There’s a motherlode of exceptional content available that highlights the trials, triumphs and contributions of Black people in the U.S. Challenge yourself to search for more of these resources. 

Television and Movies

  • Black-ish: This Emmy-nominated comedy series about an upper middle class Black family that navigates social and political issues is renowned for telling stories about Black history and the Black experience in America. Its season 4 premiere episode, entitled “Juneteenth,” features pointed criticism about the lack of recognition paid to the holiday, while a day celebrating Christopher Columbus remains commonplace. In response, main character Dre (played by Anthony Anderson) seeks help producing a catchy song to raise awareness about the holiday. You can find “Black-ish” on ABC and Hulu.
  • Atlanta: The Juneteenth episode of Donald Glover’s hit comedy series “Atlanta” brings the holiday into sharp (if not, satirical) focus when main characters Earn and Van attend a wealthy interracial couple’s Juneteenth party. There, they’re confronted by a number of stereotypical tropes (Juneteenth Juice and Frozen Freedom Margaritas, anyone?) and a white host who tries to explain the significance of the holiday to them — two Black people. It’s not entirely educational, but it serves as a humorous, ironic look at cultural dynamics between Black people long familiar with Juneteenth and white people who are just becoming “woke” to it.
  • Miss Juneteenth: This 2020 Sundance film tells the story of Turquoise Jones, a single mother who adamantly wants her 15-year-old daughter Kai to win the annual Miss Juneteenth pageant. Although the winner gets a scholarship to a historically Black college or university (HBCU) of her choice, Kai wants to chart her own path, which includes trying out for her school’s dance team. The film delves into Juneteenth’s rich history with a few scenes dedicated to educating viewers about the holiday. It also provides a beautiful (and rare) cinematic look at how Black women support each other in a society that often fails them. You can find the movie, which has a 99 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, streaming free on Amazon Prime.
  • Juneteenth Jamboree: This show from PBS in Austin details the history of Juneteenth and provides a deep exploration of Black culture, traditions and celebrations around the country, while offering vignettes of the people who continue to uphold its rich legacy.

Books 

  • On Juneteenth: Published this past May, Annette Gordon-Reed’s New York Times bestseller tells the story of America’s long journey to Juneteenth. The historian and Texas native weaves together personal stories with historic facts to demonstrate the integral role African Americans have played in the story of the Lone Star State while also chronicling the enormous hardships Black people have faced in this country, from Reconstruction to Jim Crow and beyond.
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness: Michelle Alexander’s poignant exploration of the American criminal justice system confronts the reader with the grisly truth behind mass incarceration, the racial caste system and how discrimination, as long as it’s leveled against felons (usually Black felons), has become perfectly legal again.
  • Between the World and Me: Ta-Nehisi Coates takes on the racial war against Black people, the challenges of inhabiting a Black body and America’s legacy of slavery and segregation in a stirring letter to his son. Through a series of personal anecdotes and life experiences, Coates details his own awakening to his place in the world while also providing a fresh framework for understanding the history of race in America.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson peers into the lives of three unique individuals to tell the story of the Great Migration, the exodus of nearly 6 million Black people from the Jim Crow-era South to the North and West in a bid to find a better life. She details their harrowing cross-country journeys, their new lives in new neighborhoods and how they changed the look and feel of these cities by bringing with them culture, food, faith and hard work.

Explore this list of other excellent Juneteenth reads.

Documentaries

  • 13th: Ava DuVernay’s hard-hitting documentary about disproportionate mass incarceration rates among African Americans homes in on how the 13th amendment, though it purportedly abolished slavery, has been leveraged to build the prison industrial complex.
  • A Time to Be Remembered (A Juneteenth Story): This 1997 documentary tells the story of American slavery and highlights well-known figures and events in the anti-slavery movement, such as Harriet Tubman, Dred Scott, the Underground Railroad and the story behind the hymnal “Amazing Grace.”
  • I Am Not Your Negro: This stirring documentary about infamous author James Baldwin explores the history of American racism through the eyes of the author himself, as well as his recollections about key civil rights figures such as Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the film won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary in 2018.
  • Lecture on post-traumatic slave disorder: Although not a documentary in the traditional sense, Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary’s gripping lecture on post-traumatic slave disorder examines the generational and psychological damage chattel slavery wreaked on Black people and how that trauma continues to ripple today.

Podcasts

  • 1619: This stirring, award-winning New York Times audio series hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones traces the origins of American chattel slavery, beginning with the first ship that brought more than 20 enslaved Africans to the English colony of Virginia in 1619. From there, Hannah-Jones tells the story of hardships, difficulties and intentional roadblocks created to suppress Black people and how those decisions continue to affect scores of people today.
  • The History and Meaning of Juneteenth: This Juneteenth episode of The Daily examines why the holiday has only gained prominence now despite its more than 150-year history. It also attempts to answer the question of what freedom looks like now.
  • 153 Years of Juneteenth: This special episode from The Takeaway features a conversation with actress Jennifer Lewis, who plays Grandma Ruby on “Black-ish,” on the importance of recognizing Juneteenth as a mainstream holiday.
  • Dreams of Black Wall Street: This podcast, hosted by Nia Clark, takes a historic look at the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, tracing the origins of the racial tension that led to that bloody day that left 300 people dead and an entire community razed to the ground.

Music

  • Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday drew the ire of the FBI for her refusal to stop singing this song that spotlighted the racial violence and rampant lynchings targeted against Black people in the South. Despite the controversy it created, Holiday persevered, singing the song until her tragic death at age 44. “Strange Fruit” is still considered one of Holiday’s most remarkable works.
  • Blackbird: Nina Simone’s hauntingly classic “Blackbird” details the collective struggles and pain Black women face as people living at the intersection of race, class and gender oppression. The song is considered one of Simone’s crowning lyrical achievements and is notable for becoming an anthem of the civil rights movement.
  • Lift Every Voice and Sing: Composed by two influential brothers from Jacksonville, Fla., “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is hailed as the Black National Anthem, comprised of lyrics that detail the history of Black struggle in America, proudly proclaim the beauty of Blackness and casts a hopeful vision for a better future.
  • Black Parade: Beyoncé released this nonprofit charity single in support of Black activism on June 19, 2020, as a celebration of Juneteenth and on the heels of the murder of George Floyd. The song celebrates Black culture and history, condemns racism and delivers a call to action for protest against police brutality.

Jonathan McFadden is a senior content designer by day, working with designers, researchers and project managers to improve user experiences for major brands. When he's not designing with words at his day gig, he's writing content for clients as the founder and owner of Jon Writes, LLC and partner with Ace Creatives. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his wife, teaching Bible study, reading comic books and being Black.

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