Collage by Tyrel Stendahl
June 19th, 2021 marks the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth, the day in 1865 that the Emancipation Proclamation was read to free Black slaves in Texas-the last state to still enforce slavery. This was over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation actually went into effect and months after the Civil War had ended, but Texas had still not been taken by the Union Army.
Today, many people commemorate Juneteenth every year, as while Independence Day is meant to celebrate the American freedom achieved on July 4th, 1776, it's essential to remember that Black Americans were not freed from slavery until nearly a century later. Yet since Juneteenth isn't a federal holiday and isn't taught in every school, many people still don't know much about it. And the fact that there aren't all that many books, movies, or TV episodes about Juneteenth certainly doesn't help.
There's long been a push to gain more recognition for the holiday. In 1980, Texas became the first state to observe the day-over 100 years late-and currently 47 states recognize it. In 2018, a resolution passed in the Senate to recognize Juneteenth Independence Day, but it has not yet been passed in the House. The day deserves more awareness and acknowledgment, yet while there are a lot of films, literature, music, and TV series people can turn to in order to learn more about Black American history as a whole, media about Juneteenth, specifically, is lacking. Below, check out the few depictions of Juneteenth on TV and in film that do exist, as well as some other options for educating yourself on the holiday and its surrounding history.
TV episodes about Juneteenth:
In October 2017, black-ish aired an episode specifically about Juneteenth in which Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) decide that their whole family will celebrate the day. When Zoey (Yara Shahidi) overhears her parents talking about it, she asks, "Wait, that's what Juneteenth is?"-an unfortunately a common response from Black and non-Black Americans alike since the holiday is so under-taught.
The rest of the episode is a musical, featuring a School House Rock-ish animated segment and a song performed by an 1865 version of the Johnson family about being granted their freedom. It's a significant installment of TV, teaching the whole history of Juneteenth in the 22-minute span of a sitcom. Stream on Hulu
You'll be hard-pressed to find many other TV episodes about Juneteenth. The only other notable one comes from Atlanta, and it aired in October 2016. The episode shows Earn (Donald Glover) and Van (Zazie Beetz) attending a Juneteenth party at a rich interracial couple's home. The white husband ends up being too enthusiastic about Black culture, telling Earn he has to visit "the motherland" of Africa, and the Black wife makes horrible comments about whether Earn is going to shoot up her house. The episode isn't a history lesson on Juneteeth, but it is a lesson on micro-aggressions and how to not celebrate Juneteenth with specialty cocktails with names like "Plantation Masters Poison" and "Forty Acres and a Moscow Mule." Stream on Hulu
Books about Juneteenth:
Juneteenth for Mazie & All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom
While there isn't much adult media specifically about Juneteenth, there are actually quite a few children's books on the topic. Juneteenth for Mazie, written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, tells the story of a young girl who learns about the holiday from her father as they prepare to celebrate.
There's also All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom, written by Angela Johnson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, about a girl who experiences the first Juneteenth as she is freed with her family. These are just two of the many books that can teach the children in your life about the holiday.
Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison is not a historical explanation of the holiday, but a novel about two men who use the date symbolically, because of the slaves in Texas finding out so late that they were freed. The book focuses on a mixed race white-passing man's rise and fall and his abandonment of the Black family who raised him.
Movies about Juneteenth:
Miss Juneteenth, from director Channing Godfrey Peoples, is the story of a mother and her teenage daughter in Texas. The mother, Turquoise (Nicole Beharie), won the Miss Juneteenth Pageant when she was a teen and now she's pressuring her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) to enter it. The pageant was something Peoples knew from her upbringing in Fort Worth, Texas. "I grew up with Juneteenth so it was just second nature to me," the filmmaker told Deadline in January. "There's parades, there's blues music, there's barbecues. And in the centerpiece of it is the Miss Juneteenth Pageant. It's a Scholastic beauty pageant for young African American women to gain college scholarship." Digital release on June 19, 2020
Specials about Juneteenth:
This Austin, Texas PBS station puts out a Juneteenth special each year called Juneteenth Jamboree. Episodes and clips can be viewed on the Austin PBS website, and they include history lessons, musical performances, and footage from Juneteenth celebrations.
Since there aren't many books, shows, and films about Juneteenth, here are two related options that can help you learn more about Black history around the end of the Civil War:
The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in 1865, but the tagline for Ava DuVernay's acclaimed documentary 13th says it all: "From slave to criminal with one amendment." The film explores America's journey from slavery to mass incarceration, which includes Jim Crow laws, convict leasing, and the prison industrial complex. Streaming on Netflix or watch for free on Netflix's YouTube channel
Stony the Road
Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s book Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow starts with the Emancipation Proclamation and examines the time between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. While Juneteenth marked the end of slavery, new laws and ways to keep black Americans down, separate, and unequal sprung up afterwards, and the effects are still felt today.