Juneteenth is an annual holiday commemorating Union Gen. Gordon Granger's arrival in Texas in 1865, marking the official end of slavery. The holiday occurs on June 19, two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Civil War. It has been celebrated by African-Americans since the late 19th century, though it took Saturday's New York Times to educate me about the day, which I had not learned about in a single history class or book in primary school, high school and college—not an inkling. I am embarrassed by this educational lapse, although not entirely surprised. I am not the only one to confess ignorance, given the fact that getting racial and ethnic histories that represent truth instead of myth has been a continual battle in school districts around the country.
Were it not for President Trump's provocatively ill-timed and now canceled decision to hold his first campaign rally in the wake of the George Floyd murder exactly on June 19 in Tulsa, OK—where in 1921 hundreds of African Americans were attacked by a white mob that looted and burned many black-owned businesses and homes in the prosperous Greenwood District known as Black Wall Street—I would not have known of this prominent day (which has yet to be declared a national holiday). What other events of importance have been dusted under the rug of national amnesia?
The Times offered readers an additional insight on Saturday: the status of the ongoing attempts to rid Mississippi's state flag of the Confederate stars and bars. Among the options for replacement designs is the so-called Stennis flag (below), designed by artist Laurin Stennis, granddaughter of the Mississippi segregationist senator John C. Stennis. "One of our most important and well-known images—our state flag—has overtly represented division and even ill will to many in Mississippi," she writes on her website. "It has acted as a barrier rather than a bridge to civic and economic development. Recent events have brought this issue to the fore once again, and I believe Mississippians are now ready to project a more welcoming and positive image that truly reflects its people." She says it represents History + Hope + Hospitality.
Symbols and signs play a huge role in the national history narrative, and one of the gestures of change is the replacement of images that shed a dark light on the country's legacy.
In an Opinion piece in the Times, Beth Ann Fennelly writes that "capturing the flag is a high-stakes game. Failure means a doubling down on the current flag, as it did almost 20 years ago, when Mississippians rejected the proposed alternative, an unappealing circle of stars that was derided as the 'pizza flag.'"
“The people of Mississippi voted in 2001 to keep the current flag,” is what current Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, offered as justification for retaining the offensive image.
Many image issues get lost in the flood of news (real or fake) that we must sort out. I for one am glad that in times like these, The New York Times has my back.