On Wednesday, June 16, 2021, the CHC and the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities hosted a virtual conversation discussing Annette Gordon-Reed‘s book, On Juneteenth. Gordon-Reed is also a past Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Winner.
On Juneteenth provides a historian’s view of the country’s long road to Juneteenth, recounting both its origins in Texas and the enormous hardships that African-Americans have endured in the century since, from Reconstruction through Jim Crow and beyond. All too aware of the stories of cowboys, ranchers, and oilmen that have long dominated the lore of the Lone Star State, Gordon-Reed ― herself a Texas native and the descendant of enslaved people brought to Texas as early as the 1820s ― forges a new and profoundly truthful narrative of her home state, with implications for us all.
More than 50 people attended the Zoom conversation, which was led by a panel of four faculty members:
- Gabrielle Bychowski, Lecturer and Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellow at CWRU
- Marilyn Sanders Mobley, Professor of English and African American Studies at CWRU
- Lisa Nielson, Lecturer and Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellow at CWRU
- Derrick Williams, Professor of Communication Studies at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), Metropolitan Campus
These panelists reflected on their own experiences and takeaways from Gordon-Reed’s book, and then led breakout sessions with panel attendees.
The CHC invited four students ― two current CHC Scholars, and two CHC alumni ― to join the virtual conversation and write brief reflections about their experiences, which have been included below.
April Graham, CHC Cohort 5
2021 marks my first year officially celebrating Juneteenth. Previously, this date was never something that was recognized in my schools, nor was it something acknowledged in my community. It frustrated me to realize just how much American history is being erased or manipulated, which ultimately led me to my journey in the past few years of my academic career to consume and interact with as much material from silenced voices in history as possible. The opportunity to join the book discussion of On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed was incredibly exciting for me. Not only was it the timely chance to learn more about the silenced history of Juneteenth, but it was also a congregation of multiple academic communities that offered a unique range of perspectives and information. Being able to interact with and listen to scholars and professors was a priceless experience for me, one that had me so focused on writing down all the fascinating facts and quotes that my only regret was that I was too absorbed in my note-taking to add to the conversation! However, it did leave me with many powerful takeaways that stuck with me, additionally granting me the opportunity to continue learning and pass this information on to others. Dr. Marilyn Mobley, a leader and presenter at the event, emphasized that Juneteenth is a reminder that we still have work to do. She stated that history is “told, taught and tampered with”, an alliterative reminder that we must constantly “challenge incomplete history”. I feel that this community conversation has absolutely granted me the tools to confidently do so in the future and encourage others to do as well.
Lauren Bell, CHC Cohort 5
When talking about Juneteenth and what it means, it’s important to understand how we can apply that today. Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the emancipation of African-Americans slaves, but how does that look today? Recently the day has been recognized as a national holiday, but that is the bare minimum that the country should be doing to acknowledge what this day means. To honor this day, people can continue to be anti-racist and recognize that the society we live in is still neglecting Black Americans, as well as other POC groups. This could start with dismantling systems and institutions that do not benefit people of color as they do White Americans. I think the recent events about Juneteenth becoming a holiday speaks volumes on how racism is treated in a country that caters to White Americans. The book On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed has an message on how we interact with history. To me, this means examining what happened and not allowing it to repeat in a modern world. In order to do this, people should evaluate the systematic institutions we live in, and realize that they are heavily linked with racism and should be dismantled or completely reconstructed.