Juneteenth is a celebration of emancipation, with its origins in Texas, where, nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Texas slaveholders withheld this information and continued to exploit the roughly 250,000 enslaved men, women, and children in that state until June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, explicitly stating that:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
As the last several sentences of General Order No. 3 demonstrate, the fight for equal rights had a long way to go: In 1866, June 19 was first celebrated in Texas as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day,” and in June 2021, Congress established it as a federal holiday. Juneteenth is now recognized as our country’s second independence day.
Preserving stories of struggle and survival for future generations is critical to teaching the history of slavery in the United States. Many of us have family lore, passed down orally from generation to generation, about the persecution of our ancestors, how they overcame it, and the lasting effects that slavery has left. This Juneteenth, consider celebrating that freedom by memorializing that history in writing.
This Juneteenth, Life Stories to Inspire You to Write Yours
Former slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglas’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas is among the most well-known life stories from those who endured the horrors of slavery in the United States. In it, the brilliant and eloquent writer details the terrible abuses he suffered, his dramatic escape, and how he overcame obstacles to become a champion for freedom. Anyone interested in documenting a family history that covers the impact of slavery and racism should read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas for inspiration.
https://www.loc.gov/item/2020633537/B.F. Smith & Son, photographer. Frederick Douglass, three-quarter length portrait, seated / B.F. Smith & Son, photographers, 91 Middle Street, Portland. United States, 1864. [Portland, Maine: B.F. Smith & Son, photographers, 91 Middle Street, January or February] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2020633537/.
A more contemporary life story focusing on the civil rights movement is Walking with the Wind by the late Congressman John Lewis, in which he describes the Selma marches, Bloody Sunday, and the Freedom Rides. His tone is powerful yet instructive, demonstrating that his life story is more than one person’s collection of thoughts but rather an important and brilliantly written historical work.
Graham, Douglas, photographer. John Lewis., 1999. [28 Sept] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2019644987/.
Business Books About Overcoming Racism and Inequality
Juneteenth is an opportunity to reflect on Black-owned businesses, celebrate their achievements, and consider how racism and segregation prevented many entrepreneurs from achieving their full potential. In Built From the Fire: The Epic Story of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, America’s Black Wall Street, journalist Victor Lukerson chronicles the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the rebuilding of that neighborhood into a new “Mecca,” and how urban renewal and gentrification pose new threats to that community. Through interviews with race massacre survivors and their descendants, Luckerson examines what it means to live and work in a place that has been threatened by total obliteration more than once but continues to rally against forces that work to destroy it.
DIYBook Prompts for Writing About Painful, But Important, Injustices
Whether you’re planning on using DIYBook as a Juneteenth activity for your family or for your business, DIYBook provides several writing prompts designed to help you write your story. Among its many categories of prompts, DIYBook has detailed sections on adversity and trauma.
Try DIYBook today, and remember, DIYBook offers professional ghostwriters and graphic designers if you need extra help.