Things to Read and Watch to Celebrate and Honor Juneteenth

·8 min read
Juneteenth, The Fire Next Time, The Sweetness of Water
Juneteenth, The Fire Next Time, The Sweetness of Water

Books that depict the struggle and obstacles overcome by Black people over centuries have my constant attention and always will. One of the country’s greatest authors, Ralph Ellison, wrote a novel titled Juneteenth that is now available as an audiobook through the publisher. It’s genuinely easier to take in the story when you’re listening to it. But all of the books on this list do a fantastic job of examining Juneteenth (the holiday) from different perspectives and giving solutions to readers that we may not have ever thought of.

But let’s also get into some media. There has been so much—and excuse my language—fake news around racism and slavery that bogs down the media that it becomes hard to sift through and find videos or events that get right to the point and explore Blackness—specifically Blackness on Juneteenth—that is succinct and easy to listen to. I mean, Cartoon Network partnered with a Black-owned media company to create a three-part series for Draw This that shows three very different sides to the holiday.

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When thinking and examining monumental historical events, such as the emancipation of enslaved persons, consider this: the literature and media we absorb is just as important as observing the holiday.

The Sweetness of Water: A Novel – Nathan Harris (Fiction)

The Sweetness of Water: A Novel – Nathan Harris
The Sweetness of Water: A Novel – Nathan Harris

The Emancipation Proclamation marked the end of the Civil War, and two brothers—Prentiss and Landry—find themselves displaced, seeking refuge and a place to get back on their feet. George Walker and his wife, Isabelle, graciously open their home to the brothers, hiring them to work on their farm, where a tentative friendship begins. However, while the Walkers hope for a friendly alliance, the brothers take advantage of the pay and save as much as they can, ensuring their journey North goes smoothly.

Nathan Harris’s debut novel offers a parallel timeline following two Confederate soldiers—who have been hiding their affair in the woods for quite some time. But all hell breaks loose when their relationship is found out and their lives are put on display to a community that once accepted them.

The Sweetness of Water creates an “unforgettable cast of characters, depicting Georgia in the violent crucible of Reconstruction.” Filled with a combination of harrowing relationships, revelations around love and an epic story of those freed, lost and found.

June 15, 2021, Little, Brown and Company

The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin (Essay)

The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin

If there is anything this country needs, it is an in-depth crash course in how to be anti-racist. James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is a powerful and poignant collection of essays exploring the wildly detrimental effects racism has had on this country in the last 60 years–since the book’s original publication. The first two essays focus on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation, and Baldwin addresses the essay to his nephew and offers kind—yet stern and demanding—advice and truth about what it means to be a Black man in America. Baldwin addresses the readers and asks them to “confront the oppressive institutions of race, religion and nationhood itself.” Rather than a tirade of hate and loathing of said institutions, The Fire Next Time approaches change with an open mind and realistic mindset.

1963, Penguin Random House

On Juneteenth – Annette Gordon-Reed (Historical Nonfiction/Memoir)

On Juneteenth – Annette Gordon-Reed
On Juneteenth – Annette Gordon-Reed

Historian Annette Gordon-Reed gives readers a unique perspective of Texas years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Her objective knowledge mixed with her personal experiences as a native of the state gives an exclusive look at how the insurmountable hardships Black people have faced since 1865 have only increased—tenfold. Her personal account “forges a new and profoundly truthful narrative of her home state,” and the implications those actions have on the country as a whole.

Gordon-Reed takes us all the way back to Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1965 when Major General Gordon Grange proclaimed the end of legalized slavery in the state, thus making Black people an integral part of Texas’ history.

June 2021, W.W. Norton & Company

Juneteenth: A Novel – Ralph Ellison, Narrated by John F. Callahan, Charles Robinson, Joe Morton (Audiobook)

Juneteenth: A Novel– Ralph Ellison, Narrated by John F. Callahan, Charles Robinson, Joe Morton
Juneteenth: A Novel– Ralph Ellison, Narrated by John F. Callahan, Charles Robinson, Joe Morton

In Ralph Ellison’s long-awaited second novel, Juneteenth, the writer uses his mastery of rhythm, jazz and prose to explore the story and happenings behind Juneteenth. The audiobook, narrated by Callahan, Robinson and Morton, tells the honest truth through a historically accurate fictional tale.

As a young Black man, Sunraider, an orphan, was taken in by Hickman, a preacher, and raised to follow in his “father’s” footsteps. But “behind it all lies a mystery: how did this chosen child become the man who would deny everything to achieve his goals? Brilliantly crafted, moving, wise, Juneteenth is the work of an American master.”

May 25, 2021, Penguin Random House

Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America – Ibram X. Kendi (Nonfiction)

Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America – Ibram X. Kendi
Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America – Ibram X. Kendi

Here’s a hot take: Some people in this godforsaken country believe that we are living in a “post-racial society.” I call BS. No, these people who believe this are those who turn their heads to the shooting of Black people by police and ignore the fact that “racist thought is not just alive and well in America—it is more sophisticated and [insidious] than ever.” Ibram X. Kendi sets out to not only tear apart these ideas but to provide solutions through a thorough narrative that examines all anti-racist ideologies and the power they have—and can have—throughout American history.

In celebrating a day where enslaved people because free, it is important to then do the work that keeps that freedom alive, and Kendi lays out a roadmap that “offers us the tools we need to expose racist thinking [and] in the process, he gives us reason to hope.”

August 15, 2017, Bold Type Books

ABC Presents Juneteenth Special in Conversation with Barack Obama and Others

On Friday, June 18, Good Morning America (GMA) will be releasing an exclusive interview between GMA’s Michael Strahan and former President Barack Obama. The interview, “Juneteenth: Together We Triumph” will air on ABC—available to watch on Hulu and demand on June 19. In a quote from ABC, Obama tells Strahan, “We’re not all going to live in a perfect kumbaya society. But we can make it better by working and by reaching out and by assuming the best in each other.” In addition to the special segment, Leslie Odom Jr. will host two hours of storytelling with tributes and performances by Chloe Bailey (Chloe X Halle) and Leon Bridges. For more information on the event, ABC has outlined in great detail the program here.

Bounce TV and Black Music Awards Honors Juneteenth

In celebration of Juneteenth, the Black Music Honors commemorates the day with an awards special airing this Saturday, June 19 at 1 pm ET. This will be the 6th annual awards show will celebrate iconic musicians such as Angie Stone, Ramsey Lewis, Marvin Saap and Genuine. Other performances will take place in the evening on Bounce TV. In addition to honoring Juneteenth, the award show will be celebrating Black Music Month.

Ida B. Wells Returns to Chicago

Chicago Stories, a platform looking at the distinct and more influential figures, has released an interactive video and virtual exhibit about Ida B. Wells. Renowned investigative journalist, civil rights leader and advocate for women’s rights, Wells set the tone for journalists to follow. Her legacy begins at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, protesting the fact Black people weren’t allowed in. the The one-hour Chicago Stories special airs the weekend of Juneteenth to revise the life of Ida B. Wells, a figure whose work began less than 40 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Nikole Hannah-Jones, joins other descendants as they relay the story of Wells and her impact on the Black community and journalism.

Sirius XM x Juneteenth

Tune into SiriusXM Urban View channel 26 for an enlightening panel discussion to celebrate, educate, and increase cultural awareness surrounding Juneteenth. The virtual special features respected voices across politics, media, academia, community activism, and entertainment such as Trae tha Truth, April Ryan, Phylicia Rashad, Ms. Opal Lee, Robert Randolph, and Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, Chairperson of the History Department at the University of Texas at Austin with a PhD in African American Studies. The event will air starting at 2 pm ET.

*Cue Cartoon Network Theme but Make It Black*

Right. Cartoon Network (CN)’s Drawn To series will be celebrating the holiday by airing a three-part special—starting June 16 and continuing throughout the month. Ms. Opal Lee, aka the Grandmother of Juneteenth, is the subject of the first episode, where she will discuss the work she’s done to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Did you know there was a national Miss Juneteenth competition? Well, now you do. In the second episode, viewers will meet Saniya the first national Miss Juneteenth winner and Jordan, who participated in the round for younger kids. Major General Gordon Granger’s ancestor to Julian speaks about his ancestor in the third episode.

Drawn to Juneteenth was created by Burrell, a Black-owned, Chicago-based marketing agency. All videos will be available on the CN app.

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