Today we honor activists like Opal Lee, who is referred to as the Grandmother of Juneteenth, and whose activism paved the way for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday. In 2016, 89-year-old Ms. Lee began a walking campaign from Texas to Washington, D.C. to remind elected leaders of the importance of making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Six years after she began her annual walk, President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. Ms. Lee’s activism reminds us that no matter our age, we can drive change in this country.
Corporate America’s celebration of Juneteenth is not without controversy. Many feel that Juneteenth has already become another commercialized holiday, with companies cashing in without understanding the day’s importance.
For example, Walmart rolled out a Juneteenth ice cream, which was met with backlash on social media – causing Walmart to swiftly apologize and remove the ice cream. A number of investigations and complaints in the workplace suggest that employees and customers are unimpressed with tokenizing the celebration of Juneteenth for commercial gain. Companies that have been successful at celebrating Juneteenth have highlighted Black-owned brands, entrepreneurs, and customers, on their websites and via their social media platforms
Juneteenth is ultimately about acknowledging our nation’s complicated history, and recognizing the actions of others that led to the emancipation of African-Americans. We should all strive to become life-long learners and owe it to ourselves to constantly expand our educations. To that end, here are some articles and books on our reading list:
- Non-Fiction) “How the World is Passed” by Clint Smith – In his first major work of nonfiction, poet, scholar and Atlantic Magazine staff writer Clint Smith traveled to eight places in the United States, as well as one abroad, to understand how each reckons with its relationship to the history of American slavery.
- (Fiction) “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi – One of Oprah’s “Best Books of the Year” and a PEN/Hemingway award winner, “Homegoing” follows the parallel paths of two sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy, both for those who were taken and those who stayed – and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
- (Podcast) “1619” from The New York Times – Marking the 400th anniversary of the start of slavery in America, this series is an incredible reckoning of America’s past.
- (Article) America wasn’t a democracy until Black Americans made it.