By Stephanie Hartwell-Mandella
While recently scrolling through various social media accounts, I have noticed a marked increase in the recognition of Juneteenth, and I am not sure how I feel about it.
Living in Texas, in school, you learn Texas state history before you learn American History. Juneteenth is a big deal in Texas. In places under Confederate control, way back in the day – news of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) didn’t mean squat, it was business as usual. Juneteenth commemorates the date of June 19th in 1865 when Federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced that more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state were free by executive decree. To be clear, a full TWO YEARS after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Fast forward many years, I am now living on the East coast. Through high school, college, post grad and throughout my professional life, I recognized Juneteenth – explaining what it was to friends and colleagues, with very little recognition in the broader community.
Now in 2021, I am in California and the past two years have been tumultuous, to say the least. In addition to going through a pandemic, we are facing some of the more difficult aspects of our nation’s history. With increased awareness of issues facing people of color, a surge in hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, a rise in antisemitism and LGBTQ crimes, the Black Lives Matter movement, increased voter suppression, and fake news …. it can be overwhelming.
Some have responded by doubling down on older, more traditional ways of thinking. People fear what they don’t understand, they feel attacked, fearing “other”, fearing change from the way things have always been. Others are listening, and sharing their stories, supporting the change they wish to see, and using this unusual time to learn and expand their knowledge and understanding of others.
I wonder if this societal change will take root, or will it wither and die? Are people truly interested in doing the hard work, having the uncomfortable conversations, learning from and listening to the experience of others, learning more about ALL of our nation’s history; for example, Juneteenth, or is it just “the flavor of the month” and soon we will all go back to business as usual?
I have decided to think of this time as liminal space – a transitional time between two ways of being. What was – and what will be. Sharing our stories, to better understand the struggles of our neighbors, family, friends, the people in our community. I have decided to err on the side of our better natures and look at all the Juneteenth celebrations as growth toward something better for all of us.
Stephanie Hartwell-Mandella is the Branch Manager of the Corte Madera Library.
Learn more about Juneteenth: The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth on the website of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.
Photo: Martha Yates Jones (left) and Pinkie Yates (right), daughters of Rev. Jack Yates, in a decorated carriage parked in front of the Antioch Baptist Church located in Houston's Fourth Ward, 1908. Houston Public Library, African-American Library at the Gregory School: Photo ID: MSS0281-PH037.