On Juneteenth by Sheryl Garner Ellsworth

On Juneteenth

Last year’s killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd heightened racial tensions prompting an unprecedented increase in the desire to better understand the Black American experience from many of my non-Black friends. My phone was flooded with apologetic texts seeking forgiveness for racist comments, willful ignorance of Black history, and denial of the existence of systemic racism. It was a heavy time. Over a year has passed but the cloud of police brutality and ever-increasing political partisanship continue to spur rifts in many friendships; add the impact of a global pandemic and hope for meaningful change seems hopeless. But despite these challenges, I’m hopeful that our future will be brighter particularly as many friends and well-known companies (e.g. Google, Facebook, Adobe, Lyft, etc.) begin to acknowledge the contributions of Black people in America by celebrating and honoring Juneteenth.

For many, Juneteenth remains a mystery. Largely absent from most history curricula, Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the US. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation’s abolishment of slavery on January 1, 1863, slavery continued in much of the South. On June 19, 1865, a little over two months after the official end of the Civil War, and two and a half years after the abolition of slavery, a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that all enslaved people were finally free. Juneteenth commemorates these events.

Juneteenth is a special day for me, not only for its historical significance but also because it’s my birthday. Growing up I quickly realized that Juneteenth’s significance wasn’t equally understood or appreciated. Whenever older Black people heard that my birthday was June 19, they would immediately respond with, “Oh wow, you share a birthday with Juneteenth!” Meanwhile, non-Black people would say, “Oh wow, your birthday is just shy of the first day of summer!” or, “I bet you share your birthday a lot with Father’s Day!” I’ve continuously tried to share my knowledge of Juneteenth, as the end of slavery is a joyous moment that should be celebrated by all not only Black people.

My hope is that everyone, whether their company formally gives them the day off or not, takes a moment to honor those who never tasted freedom and recognize that America’s foundational wealth was built with the free labor of enslaved Africans. Acknowledging this fact is not anti-American, it’s our American history. And as Abraham Lincoln said, “History is not history unless it is the truth.”

So take the time to learn and celebrate Juneteenth and our shared triumph over slavery’s evil. No celebration would be complete without food and Juneteenth is no different. Red foods like strawberry soda, hibiscus tea, red velvet cake, strawberry pie, and watermelon are customary for Juneteenth as red or crimson is the symbol of ingenuity and resilience in bondage. Happy Juneteenth!

Thank you Sheryl! And some of you may remember that Happy Birthday cake topper from this collection. We’re so honored! 

Juneteenth Reading List

This week on The House that Lars Built we’re getting ready for Juneteenth by celebrating some of our favorite Black creators, artists, and thinkers. We put our heads together as members of Team Lars and came up with this (definitely NOT comprehensive) Juneteenth reading list of books, movies, and shows.

We’ve included materials for kids and for adults, and we also recognize that some of the material here might not be for all audiences. Because our world’s history of oppression and violence against Black people is challenging, it would be disingenuous not to include challenging materials in our Juneteenth reading list. While we urge you to use your judgement in finding something from this list that is a good fit for you, we also want to underscore how important it is to take in media that stretches us, even if we sometimes feel uncomfortable.

We hope you take the time to read or watch something from our Juneteenth reading list and that in addition to learning you also bask in some beautiful Black joy. Black lives matter, Black joy matters, Black futures matter, and Black art matters!

Reading List

Books for Kids

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry coverA quilted illustration from Tar BeachHarriet gets Carried Away cover

Bunheads coverThank You, Omu coverSaturday cover

Magnificent Homespun Brown coverThe Old Truck Cover

Tallulah The Tooth Fairy CEO coverParker Looks Up coverYou Matter cover

Books for Adults

Me and White Supremacy coverWhen They Call You a Terrorist coverThe Color of Law cover

Becoming coverBetween the World and Me coverThe Color of Water cover

Bad Feminist coverI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings cover

Beloved coverCry, the Beloved Country coverThe Vanishing Half cover

Sing, Unburied, Sing coverLife on Mars coverThe Hate U Give coverThe Color Purple Cover

Watch List

If you can’t fit in time to read a book this week, consider watching one of these shows by Black creators.

Movies and Shows for Kids and Teens

  • Reading Rainbow by Lavar Burton
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air by Andy and Susan Borowitz
  • Sister Sister starring Tia and Tamera Mowry

Movies and Shows for Adults

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (based on the book listed above!)
  • Atlanta by Donald Glover
  • High on the Hog hosted by Stephen Satterfield
  • Pose by Steven Canals, Brad Falchuk, and Ryan Murphy
  • The Last Black Man in San Francisco
  • BlacKkKlansman directed by Spike Lee
  • The Underground Railroad directed by Barry Jenkins
  • Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins
  • Lovecraft Country by Misha Green
  • Mr. Church by Bruce Beresford
A tall Black man and a Black woman walk through a street market in Benin.
From High on the Hog (Netflix)

As we’ve put this list together we keep realizing that we know we’re going to miss things and leave glaring holes in this list. Still, we wanted to share some of our favorites. I would love to hear what your favorite books and movies by Black creators are, so let me know in the comments.

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Have you heard of bookshop.org? It’s a great place to buy books and support small, independent booksellers! As an affiliate partner of bookshop.org, The House that Lars Built will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you buy any books from this list.