Juneteenth is about family, unity, and liberation

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3 min readJun 19, 2024

📚 Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth, published posthumously in 1999, was a novel in progress when Ellison died in 1994. His editor, believing he’d want it to see the light of day, condensed nearly 2,000 pages into a 368-page novel.
Issue #101: creative imperfection, remembering Pulse nightclub, and the envy cure
Harris Sockel

“In my house in the 1960s,” writes adjunct professor P. Duncan Hall on Medium, “[Juneteenth] was a quiet day, as though my parents were holding sacred space to commemorate this landmark… lightly celebratory yet somber.”

Hall’s father, a Louisiana native, breaks down the holiday’s history for her. Juneteenth is a portmanteau for June 19 — the day in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to deliver the news that all 250,000 enslaved people in the state were free. Yes, this was two years overdue; the Emancipation Proclamation had made it true by law in 1863, but as historian Cheryl Brown explains, “since the country was still fighting the Civil War at the time the proclamation was issued, the Confederate states that seceded from the Union thumbed their noses at the executive order.” Enslaved people in Galveston were the last in the South to be notified of their freedom.

President Biden signed Juneteenth into law as a federal holiday in 2021, but the campaign to get it recognized goes back to at least 1979 — when Texas was the first state to adopt it officially. Opal Lee, a retired teacher and activist, campaigned for decades to make that Presidential signature a reality, even embarking on a 1,400-mile series of daily symbolic walks from her home in Dallas to Washington, DC to campaign for it.

I keep going back to this story from communications strategist Collette Watson (who happens to be born on Juneteenth, just like Patricia Hall!) which features a list of ways to honor Black freedom today. “The true themes of Juneteenth are Black family, unity, and liberation,” Watson writes, adding, “honorable celebrations of Juneteenth must be tied to acknowledging and righting real-world wrongs.”

What else we’re reading

  • After countless failed attempts to work with AI, illustrator Eva Schicker is giving up the ghost and returning to good ol’-fashioned hand drawing — mostly because she misses the process of messing up with her own two hands. “We’re human. Our creative output, that which we truly love, needs to be human, too, with all its faults and imperfections.”
  • Last Wednesday marked eight years since the Pulse nightclub shooting. Two months after the shooting, Michael Cerveris — Tony award-winning star of the musical Fun Home — published a dispatch on Medium chronicling his trip to Orlando for an impromptu performance. His post featured photos of “the chain link fence wrapping the perimeter of the site like a shroud, adorned with handmade signs, photographs, and expressions of grief and resolve.” William Spivey, who lived a block from Pulse in 2016, remembers victims’ cars parked outside his home for days. He writes: “The memory of a mother crying as she picked up her son’s car will always be with me.”

Your daily dose of practical wisdom: about curing envy

Envy does this weird thing to our brains: It makes us devalue everything we have in favor of just one thing someone else has. The cure for envy, then, is gratitude — and to remember that you’ve authored your own life based on your values.

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Edited and produced by Scott Lamb & Carly Rose Gillis

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