Last year, our friend Torrey Maldonado came up with a great idea – helping kids understand what Juneteenth means by sharing the reflections of Black children’s book creators. We’re thrilled that he’s back showcasing even more voices. The first federal holiday created since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery. It marks the date when General Gordon Granger arrived with the Union Army to enforce that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were free – June 19, 1865 – 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Around the country, people will honor Juneteenth with talks, dance performances, movies, parades, barbecue and strawberry pop and more. How are you going to celebrate? Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati, founder of the African American Children’s Book Project (AACBP), encourages people to support Black bookstores by purchasing and sharing Black books that salute Black history. Her Literary Cafe has prepared an extensive list of books from preschool to young adult on its on-line bookstore at https://bookshop.org/lists/juneteenth-celebrate-literary-freedom. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of the books will support the work of the AACBP.
Here, Torrey shares his powerful thoughts about the holiday and the quotes he has collected from fellow outstanding Black children’s book creators about why Juneteenth matters. Please share with kids and ask what this day of liberation means to them.
By Torrey Maldonado
What excites you about Juneteenth? Ask people that and expect different answers. To me, Juneteenth means a lot, including there’s a slice of velvet cake I can’t wait to enjoy on June 19th with family while we feel free. Lots of folks eat red velvet cake for the holiday. Is it because in West African tradition red means strength? Or is red for blood shed during U.S. enslavement of Blacks? I buy red velvet cake but another I buy sells out fast because many buyers like me want that red, black, and green velvet cake to embrace Black Diasporic unity and praiseworthy traits linked to Juneteenth. The three colors: blood or life, soil or our original skin tone, and growth. Yet, ask others and they want blue velvet cake or cherish Juneteenth for different reasons. And that’s a beauty of Juneteenth: the holiday reminds us there is not a monolithic Blackness and there are many reasons and ways to celebrate Juneteenth.
What began as a Texas holiday has evolved and spread. Ask people, “Why does Juneteenth matter?” and treasured answers surface until you have a list that will fire up your love for Juneteenth. And that’s what this post offers. Last year, I asked other Black Kid Lit friends and creators I respect to share here why Juneteenth matters. You can see that post here. Last month, Carl Lennertz–the Executive Director of the The Children’s Book Council–hit my heart with a Cupid’s arrow when he mentioned a friend who’s loved by me and many others here, Floyd Cooper. Carl shared that The CDC would spotlight a book Floyd illustrated called Juneteenth. Floyd recently passed and is with our ancestors. I asked Carl if we could feature Floyd’s Juneteenth words from last year in The CDC’s current Juneteenth boosts. He said yes, then more magic happened. The spectacular Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati—friend, founder, and CEO of the African American Children’s Book Project and Fair in Philadelphia for over thirty years–and another fabulous Kid Lit friend–Kelly Starling Lyons–wondered if I’d do a 2022 Juneteenth post with voices we hadn’t heard in our 2021 post.
So drumroll . . . here are some of your favorite authors, illustrators, and book advocates and new ones you’ll meet who you’ll be glad to know as we carry the torch that Floyd Cooper upheld as we continue to shine light on what Juneteenth means to us.
Juneteenth reminds me of how important it is to acknowledge, preserve, and celebrate our history. This holiday is a reminder of how Black people have been oppressed throughout time but have remained strong and resilient … and are forever interwoven into the fabric of America.
At the core of Juneteenth is this ancestral gift of hope. Not a naive hope or a simple one, but a complex, living, breathing, legacy of hope. To me, Juneteenth matters because it says: Keep going, the future you want is coming.
Juneteenth is a vital part of understanding our past and a celebration of our freedom, our future.
“At it’s heart, Juneteenth is about family.”
To me, at its heart, Juneteenth is about freedom. Freedom for Black people to celebrate, be in community with each other, and to be unapologetically joyful.
Home, in the backwoods of South Carolina, is where I learned about Juneteenth. Though we grew up calling it “June Fest” and I didn’t fully understand its significance as a child, it’s a week-long celebration filled with parades, softball tournaments, beauty pageants, gospel programs, and a Saturday night dance that my friends and I yearned to get into when we were older. And food. Lots and lots of food – fish fry, crab cracks, oyster roasts, you name it! June Fest was established in our area (Gifford, SC) in 1896 and has been celebrated annually since.
Tonya Duncan Ellis:
I’m proud to live less than fifty miles from the Galveston, Texas spot where General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, freeing the last 250,000 enslaved people in the United States. Celebrating Juneteenth teaches us about our nation’s history and helps us work together to correct mistakes of the past.
Chrystal D. Giles:
At its heart, Juneteenth is a community celebration of freedom! It’s a time to gather, to remember, to share joy, and protect truth.
Juneteenth means we are connected as Black/African-descended people and together we remember and celebrate our freedom, resilience, culture, and survival. Juneteenth matters to me because it joins we, the descendants of enslaved Africans, and links across the diaspora to other freedom celebrations like the Emancipation Day parades in Canada (where I was born), Jamaica (where my parents were born), and other former British colonies. We honour ancestors’ struggles and celebrate our freedom, always.
Reflecting on Juneteenth, I am reminded how many states during slavery had anti-literacy laws that prevented anyone from teaching a Black person, either enslaved or free, to read and write. The punishment was fines, imprisonment, and in some states whippings. So, as we celebrate Juneteenth, let us honor our ancestors by reading and sharing the many books by Black literary creators that speak of our accomplishments, joy, creativity, genius, ingenuity, faith, hope, family, inventiveness, and resilience. Remember A Book Opens A World of Opportunities. Preserve A Legacy and BUY A BOOK. Books have power!!!
Juneteenth is about Black Joy. The day is beautiful even in the midst of the injustice surrounding it. It’s a day to celebrate and to take a moment to listen for the echoing cries of happiness and relief made by the last enslaved women, men and children learning of their freedom.
I first became aware of Juneteenth after college, while in a Black Book group here in Minneapolis. Because I didn’t grow up knowing about it, and because I grew up hearing that ‘black people had no culture’, Juneteenth feels very significant to me. Like so many African American creations, it’s a unique celebration of our ancestors— acknowledging both deep pain and joy. Juneteenth fills me with pride in the strength of my people.
Breanna J. McDaniel:
Juneteenth matters because every moment in history that we as Black folks can celebrate movement and progress through our challenges we should. I’m not saying that troubled times are gone, we know they’re not, but Juneteenth is a reminder that it’s possible for us to move forward. We do it with every step we take into the future that was built for us and generations to come and we do it especially when we imagine and we create for ourselves. Juneteenth is a radical creation and I am grateful for the opportunity to celebrate it in little and big ways.
If had the seemingly insurmountable task of summing up Juneteenth in one word it would be Sankofa.
“it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”
Trust me, I’m no singing but if I had to sum it up in harmony I’d drop these lyrics.
By and by till the morning comes. Will tell the stories how we over come.
“I like Juneteenth because it doesn’t sound like a holiday and it doesn’t say what it is, like Veteran’s Day or Martin Luther King Jr Day. It makes people go, ‘What is that?” and then they look it up to see what it is. To think Trump wanted to reopen his presidential campaign on Juneteenth in 2020, in Tulsa(!) of all places, is enough to have this holiday. Juneteenth sounds organic, like it came from the people, not the government. It kind of sounds like a holiday some kid named—hmm, June + nineteenth= Juneteenth!”
Nikki Shannon Smith:
At it’s heart, Juneteenth is about freedom; but it is also a reminder of the sacrifices, strength, and spirit of Black people.
Juneteenth is a day for remembrance and celebration, but also reflection. I celebrate by spending time with my family, while also considering the battles yet to be won and how I can advocate for greater justice and equity in my community.
Debbie A. Taylor:
Juneteenth reminds us that truth is essential, but information is critical. Juneteenth encourages us to celebrate resilience and resourcefulness in the face of injustice.
Brittany J. Thurman:
Juneteenth Matters because the trials and triumphs of those who came before us should never go unnoticed. Let us forever be in celebration, honoring the strength, love and perseverance of our ancestors.
Pamela M. Tuck:
Juneteenth is like a family story that has survived through many generations. Planted deep in the heart to rejuvenate and empower us as we continue to add to the story.
I learned about Juneteenth from my late mother who took me to a Juneteenth picnic when I was a child. I was told that Juneteenth was our true independence day. Juneteenth inspires me because our ancestors created an enduring legacy that we have an opportunity to build on for the next generations.
Torrey Maldonado writes critically acclaimed middle grade books whose popularity stretches into younger and high school grades. His writing reflects his students’ and his experiences from where has taught for over twenty years. Learn more at torreymaldonado.com Follow him @torreymaldonado.