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African American Heritage - Juneteenth


Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19, is the longest-running African American holiday. Recognition of Juneteenth began in Texas in 1865 and has increasingly permeated African American popular culture. Juneteenth is a term that comes from the fusion of the words June and 19th, the date that Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army rode into Galveston, Texas, to announce (belatedly) the emancipation of African slaves. Since that date, many African Americans have celebrated that epochal day in grand style. Celebrations waned in the early 20th century, but then picked up again during the civil rights era. Juneteenth celebrations still occur throughout the nation, from the deep South, where slavery was its most severe and concentrated, to free states like Washington and Oregon, where black populations are small. Juneteenth celebrations figure prominently in the lives of African Americans and demonstrate the import of the day and the strong sense of racial and cultural connectedness that continues to prevail among Black Americans.

Alexander Lucius Twilight



Alexander Lucius Twilight

Born free in Corinth, Vermont, in 1795, Alexander Lucius Twilight, an educator and legislator, was the third of six children of Mary and Ichabod Twilight. Indentured to a local farmer, Twilight worked in his spare time and eventually saved enough to purchase the last year of his indenture in 1815. Twilight went on to attend Randolph Academy and in 1821 graduated with the equivalent of a high school degree and two years of college. He then entered Middlebury College and in 1823 received his B.A. degree. Twilight was probably the first African American to graduate from an American college.

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Daniel Hale Williams



Daniel Hale Williams

Daniel Hale Williams was a pioneering heart surgeon at a time when technological discoveries were revolutionizing the practice of medicine. In 1893, he became the first physician to successfully perform open heart surgery by entering the chest cavity of a stabbing victim and repairing the heart sac. The young man on whom he operated went on to live another 50 years after the surgery.

Williams was also responsible for early advancements in the accessibility of health care to urban blacks in Chicago, Illinois, opening Provident Hospital--the first interracial hospital in the United States--in 1891. Provident not only improved health care for black citizens, but also provided training and staff opportunities for young black men and women interested in pursuing a vocation in the medical field. Later in his career, as chief surgeon for the Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, DC, Williams improved the hospital's organization and offered both training programs for nurses and staff opportunities for doctors.

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Guy Bluford



Guy Bluford

Distinguished pilot and aeronautics engineer Guy Bluford was the first black American to experience space flight. Bluford participated in four missions on the space shuttle, performing various experiments and returning to Earth with exhilarating memories of his time in orbit. Although others have hailed the Philadelphia native as a hero and a role model, Bluford--who has earned a Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering--prefers to think of himself as a man whose accomplishments are not related to his skin color. He says that he would rather be seen simply as an astronaut, not a black astronaut, one of a hard-working corps and not a pioneer. "I felt an awesome responsibility, and I took the responsibility very seriously, of being a role model and opening another door to black Americans," he said of his shuttle flights in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "But the important thing is not that I am black, but that I did a good job as a scientist and an astronaut."

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Mae Jemison



Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison received two undergraduate degrees and a medical degree, served two years as a Peace Corps medical officer in West Africa, and was selected to join the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) astronaut training program before her thirtieth birthday. Her eight-day space flight aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 1992 established Jemison as the United States' first female African American space traveler. In 2017 she was one of several Women of NASA represented in new Lego sets.

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Frederick D. Gregory



Frederick D. Gregory

Gregory's next stop was the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in June 1974. He pursued a master's degree in information systems from George Washington University in 1977. His service at the Langley Research Center involved being a research test pilot until he ultimately was selected for the Astronaut Program in January 1978. Gregory went on to fly three shuttle missions after his training and actually made history with two of these missions. On April 29, 1985 he became the first African American to pilot a spacecraft. In 1989 Gregory made history again when he became the first African American to command a space mission.

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Eva B. Dykes



Eva B. Dykes

One of the first three black American women to earn a Ph. D. in 1921, Eva Dykes displayed an unswerving commitment to education and excellence throughout her life and career. She was honored in 1976 as a pioneer in the full intellectual development of black women by the National Association of Black Professional Women in Higher Education.

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Alain L. Locke



Alain L. Locke

Alain L. Locke (1886-1954) was an influential and brilliant interlocutor of the New Negro/ Harlem Renaissance Movement. Harvard graduate (both undergraduate and Ph.D.), Rhodes scholar, Howard University professor for four decades, polymath, and prolific writer on a capacious range of subjects, he is primarily known for editing the widely acclaimed "Bible" of the Harlem Renaissance, The New Negro . From the mid-1920s to the mid-1950s, Locke mentored dozens of artists and authors. He was, in his words, the "midwife" of mid-twentieth-century black intellectualism. Yet his role as philosopher has often been ignored, and until now, no biography has existed.

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Toni Morrison



Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison (1931-2019) was best known for her intricately woven novels, which focus on intimate relationships, especially between men and women, set against the backdrop of African American culture. She won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for her fifth novel, Beloved, the 1993 Nobel Prize for literature, and a 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom. She released her eleventh novel, God Help the Child, in 2015. In 2016, she was awarded the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.

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Rita Dove



Rita Dove

Former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove was the third African American---and the youngest poet ever---to hold the post of distinction in her field at the U.S. Library of Congress. Preceded in the position by black poets Robert Hayden (1976-78) and Gwendolyn Brooks (1985), Dove infused her role with an unprecedented measure of freshness, resolve, and vitality and a commitment to bringing poetry to the masses throughout the nation. She spent most of her career balancing her writing with teaching and since 1993 has held the Commonwealth Professor of English chair at the University of Virginia. She has collected numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, 25 honorary doctoral degrees, and several fellowships. In 2014 a documentary film of her life was released.

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Count Basie



Count Basie

As leader of his own orchestra for several decades of the twentieth century, William "Count" Basie was considered a member of the swing royalty, along with "king of swing" Benny Goodman and Basie's longtime rival and friend, Duke Ellington. A talented keyboardist, Basie developed a style rife with loose, rolling cadences and infectious hooks that became synonymous with his name. "His piano work showed that rhythm and space were more important than technical virtuosity," wrote the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, while "his composing gave many eminent soloist their finest moments.... Modern jazz stands indubitably in Basie's debt."

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Sidney Poitier



Sidney Poitier

At a 1992 banquet sponsored by the American Film Institute (AFI), a bevy of actors, filmmakers, and others gathered to pay tribute to Sidney Poitier. Superstar Denzel Washington called the veteran actor and director "a source of pride for many African Americans," the Los Angeles Times reported, while acting luminary James Earl Jones ventured that his colleague had "played a great role in the life of our country." Poitier himself was typically humble in the face of such praise, but he has acknowledged that his presence on film screens in the 1950s and 1960s did much to open up larger and more nuanced roles for black performers. "I was selected almost by history itself," he averred to Susan Ellicott of the London Times. Decades later, he was honored again, by both his country and the Academy of Achievement. Poitier received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Academy of Achievement Gold Plate Award in 2014.

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Oscar Micheaux



Oscar Micheaux

A trailblazer for today's independent black filmmakers and a key figure in movie history, Oscar Micheaux was a pioneering filmmaker whose efforts produced 40 melodramas, social dramas, gangster movies, and musicals between 1918 and 1948. He was a novelist, publisher, producer, and distributor of his own books and films. He rejected the stereotypical roles for blacks and worked assiduously to create on–screen images that would counter the racist representations of black Americans. Micheaux was the one black filmmaker who survived the competition from Hollywood and even the Great Depression, making the successful transition from silent to talking motion pictures

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Fritz Pollard



Fritz Pollard

Although he achieved major accomplishments on the field and as a coach and was long active in promoting the interests of other black players, Pollard has lacked recognition as an African-American pioneer of the game. Partly his reputation has been obscured due to the fact that pro football in the 1920s, when he began his pro career, was in its infancy; few official records were kept of games and the league extended only to a group of Midwestern cities and was sparsely publicized nationally. Yet abundant testimony from the time has confirmed Pollard's talents as a player, and his role in resisting the de facto segregation enforced by the NFL in the 1930s and 1940s was significant. Pollard had a long life that contained several impressive careers after he left the game of football.

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Jack Johnson



Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson, who became the first black heavyweight boxing champion in the world in 1908, was the preeminent American sports personality of his era, a man whose success in the ring spurred a worldwide search, tinged with bigotry, for a "Great White Hope" to defeat him. Handsome, successful, and personable, Johnson was known as much for his exploits outside of the ring as for his boxing skills. He married three white women in a time when such interracial unions resulted in denunciations of him from the floor of the United States Congress. He made big money, spent it lavishly, and lived grandly. And in doing so he gained admirers and detractors all over the world and became, quite simply, one of the best known men of the early twentieth century.

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John Baxter "Doc" Taylor



John Baxter "Doc" Taylor

Dr. John Baxter Taylor Jr. was once the best-known African-American athlete in the country. A formidable sprinter, he was the first African American to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games, a feat he achieved in London in 1908. He had little time to savor that victory or to embark on his career in veterinary medicine, a field in which he held an Ivy League degree, for he died at age 26. His passing made national news, and several thousand people, both black and white, attended his funeral.

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Matthew A. Henson



Matthew A. Henson

Matthew A. Henson is believed to be the first person to reach the North Pole. Although explorer Robert Peary's claims cast doubt on this first–time achievement by Henson, he was nonetheless an extraordinary explorer.

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Iyanla Vanzant



Iyanla Vanzant

Things did not always go the way that Iyanla Vanzant thought that they would. From early childhood abuse, to unplanned pregnancies, to numerous job shifting, Vanzant was constantly facing adversity as she made her way towards becoming an author and a motivational speaker. However, through perseverance and a new found faith, Vanzant became a best-selling writer four times over and the founder of Inner Visions Worldwide, Inc., one of the nation's top personal growth organizations.

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Taraji P. Henson



Taraji P. Henson

Taraji P. Henson is a film and television actress best known for roles in films such as Hustle & Flow (2005), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), and Hidden Figures (2016). A single mother, Henson successfully worked her way from a part-time bit player to an Academy Award nomination, building a career through such diverse roles as a police officer, a pregnant prostitute, an assassin, a former stripper, a lawyer, and a mathematician. "She's the epitome of a strong person," Henson's Hustle & Flow costar Terrence Howard told Teresa Wiltz in the Washington Post. In 2015 Henson began costarring with Howard on the FOX television series Empire. The show was renewed for four more seasons through 2018.

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Zane



Zane

Zane is the pseudonym of Kristina LaFerne Roberts, a writer of best-selling erotic fiction and nonfiction. Roberts, who holds a degree in chemical engineering, began writing erotica as a hobby and would send it to friends and acquaintances she met on the Internet. Before long, she had developed a cult following and decided to try and get her work published. She subsequently has sold more than six million books and has made the New York Times best-seller list with Afterburn and Love Is Never Painless, the latter a collection of three novellas to which Zane contributed.

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Fannie Lou Hamer



Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer spent most of her life in rural southern poverty, entering politics late in life out of anger and a passionate desire to change a racist system. She is probably best known for her work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the group that was at the forefront of the American voter registration drives of the 1960s. Hamer captured national attention as a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which eventually succeeded in electing many blacks to national office in Mississippi. She was also deeply committed to grass-roots antipoverty projects in her own community, Ruleville, Mississippi. As Henry Kirksey, one of Mississippi's first black senators, told Hamer's biographer Kay Mills, "If Fannie Lou Hamer had had the same opportunities that Martin Luther King had, then we would have had a female Martin Luther King."

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Matthew Gaines



Matthew Gaines

Gaines was elected during a brief window of time when African Americans gained representation in legislative bodies across the defeated Confederacy. He had a fiery style that was not always received sympathetically even by potential allies. However, he notched several legislative accomplishments even in the face of recalcitrant opposition from white legislators, and these had far-reaching effects. He sponsored legislation that made religious and educational institutions tax exempt, an important step in fostering community-based schooling, and he worked on legislation that established Texas's public school system, trying but failing to ensure that it was racially integrated. Gaines worked to pass legislation under which Texas would accept federal funding for land-grant colleges, ultimately leading to the establishment of several major universities. Removed from office as white legislatures pursued legal and extralegal means to reduce and ultimately eliminate African American representation, Gaines remained a little-understood figure.

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Melvin B. Tolson



Melvin B. Tolson

A teacher and coach, Melvin Beaunorus Tolson became best known as a poet. He started by exploring and commemorating the Harlem Renaissance artists in poetry, and then moved on to a multiplicity of other topics. In 1947 he was chosen to be the poet laureate of Liberia, and the poetry he wrote during that period established a new standard in African-American poetry.

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Blind Lemon Jefferson



Blind Lemon Jefferson

Blind Lemon Jefferson was an early blues singer and composer, who wrote many of his own songs and played the the guitar. His recordings were popular all over the country and influenced many later blues singers. Blues musician and guitar stylist Aaron “T–Bone” Walker led Jefferson about the streets of Dallas as a youth and it is probable that Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter), another blues giant, also spent an appreciable amount of time with Jefferson. Many traditional blues musicians sang his songs or adaptations of them and show evidence of the influence of his guitar playing as well. Jefferson's songs and pieces of his songs have been found on down home blues recordings as late as the 1950s.

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Raheem DeVaughn



Raheem DeVaughn

The son of an accomplished avant-garde jazz cellist, Raheem DeVaughn is an urban R&B singer and songwriter who gets inspiration from the great crooners of the past such as Marvin Gaye, to more contemporary singers like D'Angelo. With two albums and a Grammy nomination, DeVaughn's musical style leans as much as it does towards neo-soul and R&B as it does towards a timeless soul sound he hopes to create through his musical legacy. Rather than having critics or record labels define his sound, DeVaughn came up with his own genre which he describes as, "R&B/hippie/neo-soul/rockstar in a hip-hop world," he affirmed to Vibe writer Shayla Byrd. A DeVaughn fan and fellow musician, Alicia Keys, told journalist Clarence Waldron of Jet, "Raheem is a gem .... He embodies the soul and raw honesty of the legendary artists we long for."

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Traditions and Celebrations

Certain traditions came to be associated with the Juneteenth observance into the 20th century. Some of the practices date back to festivals set in African tradition during the colonial era. There was, for example, a parade in which a “Juneteenth king and queen” might be selected through balloting. Another feature of the early Juneteenth observation was to invite any formerly enslaved Africans in the area to be given a place of honor (such as in the parade) and given the opportunity to recount for a younger generation their experiences in bondage. Some formerly enslaved African Americans who had left Texas and escaped to Mexico via the Underground Railroad returned specifically for the Juneteenth observance.

As the holiday became more festive, public entertainment, family reunions, and other events became more prominent. In places such as Dallas, rodeos were the center of the celebration. Food was and is important in the celebrations, and an emphasis on barbecues is standard. All kinds of meats are cooked and shared. Some participants also make unique dishes, and in some locations, like Austin, there are cook-off contests. Wearing red and having red foods like watermelon, red soft drinks, and strawberry pie is also symbolic at the Juneteenth celebration. In some Texas localities, people donned plantation-style dress replete with red bandanas.

Work Cited: "Juneteenth." African American Folklore: An Encyclopedia for Students, edited by Anand Prahlad, Greenwood, 2016, pp. 186-188. Gale eBooks, https://link-gale-com.pgcmls.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/CX7121400084/GVRL?u=larg70913&sid=GVRL&xid=e148d9a9. Accessed 10 June 2020.

Videos

Juneteeth: Justice, Freedom and Democracy / PBS Books

Juneteenth - a lecture from CR Gibbs

CR Gibbs is the author/co-author of six books and a frequent national and international lecturer on an array of historical topics. Here, he explains the history and significance of Juneteenth!

What is Juneteenth?

We look at where the holiday of Juneteenth came from and why it's still a mystery to so many people.

What Juneteenth Means to Me - Andre Ferell

Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19, is the longest-running African American holiday. Recognition of Juneteenth began in Texas in 1865 and has increasingly permeated African American popular culture.

What Juneteenth Means to Me - Carian Gray

What Juneteenth Means to Me - Debra Capponi

What Juneteenth Means to Me - LaDonna Smith

What Juneteenth Means to Me - Lorraine Griffin

What Juneteenth Means to Me - Lunden Gillespie

What Juneteenth Means to Me - Marsha Quarles

Juneteenth Timeline

1

1816-1821

Black slaves are smuggled through the Texas port of Galveston.




1824

Mexico adopts a constitution freeing the slaves within its borders, including Texas, but American settlers in Texas continue to hold slaves.

2



3

1835-1836

The Texas Revolution erupts against Mexico and leads to the formation of the independent Republic of Texas.




December 29, 1845

Texas enters the Union as the 28th state; it is admitted as a slave state.

4



5

February 1861

Texas becomes the seventh state to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.




January 1, 1863

President Abraham Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the United States.

6



7

May 1865

Soldiers from the 62nd United States Colored Troops are involved in the last military skirmish of the Civil War at White's Ranch in Texas.




June 19, 1865

First Juneteenth. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army rode into Galveston, Texas, to announce (belatedly) the emancipation of African slaves.

8



9

January 1, 1980

Juneteenth became an official holiday in Texas




June 19, 2020

Maryland Governor, Larry Hogan (R), issues a proclamation recognizing Juneteenth as an Official State Holiday to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.

10

Work Cited:

Juneteenth/ African American History in Texas Timeline

Jones, H. J. (2020). Texas Timeline. In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience. Retrieved from http://africanamerican.abc-clio.com.pgcmls.idm.oclc.org/Search/Display/1541499.

Brooks, C. (2020). Juneteenth. In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience. Retrieved from http://africanamerican.abc-clio.com.pgcmls.idm.oclc.org/Search/Display/1401858

Trivia

Celebrate Black history and learn about are online resources by joining us for a Juneteenth time travel mystery.  Click here to begin.

Online Exhibits

Celebrating Juneteenth: National Museum of African American History and Culture

Juneteenth Watchlist: What to Watch in Celebration of Juneteenth

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Documentaries

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Celebrate and explore the historically African American incorporated towns of Prince George’s County: Eagle Harbor, Fairmount Heights, Glenarden and North Brentwood. Speak, share and preserve your story as we record oral histories, share community stories and preserve family memories.

Have a story to share? Call the Sojourner Truth Room at Oxon Hill to schedule an oral history recording session: (301)-839-2400x1779