Before 2021’s Juneteenth celebration, President Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, announced Villanova University will cancel classes and close in observance of Juneteenth, adding June 19 as an official University holiday.
He said, “The Juneteenth celebration not only marks an end to slavery, but it is also a day to reflect on the significant contributions of Black Americans to our country, our history and our culture.”
This year marks a historic time for Juneteenth. A bill making Juneteenth a national holiday is expected to be signed into law June 17, at the time of this writing.
Two excellent opportunities for reflection and education are available in Villanova’s Slavery in the Modern World Class and the Last Seen Project, both created by Judith Giesberg, PhD, Robert M. Birmingham Chair in the Humanities, Professor, Department of History.
She shared the importance of Juneteenth in history and its relevance to the modern United States:
Through Juneteenth celebrations, Black communities around the U.S. began marking the end of slavery in 1865, drawing on a long tradition of using events that served both as moments of reflection, but also as opportunities to refocus for the fight ahead.
Enslaved Americans joyously greeted the end of slavery in Haiti, and their celebrations threatened American enslavers and subverted the institution at home. After slavery ended in the West Indies, white slaveowners tried to manage the celebrating that occurred among the enslaved, because they understood their disruptive potential.
On this first Juneteenth after the protests following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, I hope that Americans will read and reflect on the strength and resilience of post-emancipation Black families as told in the ‘Last Seen Project’ collection and draw from that experience the courage and the conviction to look to the racial justice work that lies ahead.
To facilitate further exploration, Falvey has collected several links for the Villanova community with information about Dr. Giesberg’s class and nationally recognized historical project:
- Finding Aids for Researching the Project
- Last Seen: Voices from Slavery’s Lost Families, a dramatic performance in conjunction with Villanova Theatre, from Feb. 2019.
To learn about Juneteenth’s history and background, we look back at an abridged version of Falvey’s 2020 Juneteenth blog, written by Jutta Seibert, Director of Research Services & Scholarly Engagement at Falvey Memorial Library:
June 19, 1865, marks the end of slavery in Texas. On this day Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army occupied Texas on behalf of the federal government and upon arrival on Galveston Island publicly read General Order No. 3 which began with this sentence: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
While slaves in the Confederate states were theoretically freed on January 1, 1863, with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, solely those in Union-occupied areas and those who fled to the North became de facto free. For most slaves in the South slavery ended only after the Union won and, even then, close to six weeks passed before the news reached the the nation’s fringes. June 19 is commemorated as the day on which the last slaves were freed, despite the fact that slavery persisted in some pockets of the country until the Thirteenth Amendment took effect on December 18, 1865.
On the first anniversary of Granger’s reading of General Order No. 3 Texan freedmen began celebrating what was then called Jubilee Day. Early festivities included political rallies besides music and food. Celebrations waxed and waned over the years, but the longest-running African American holiday continues to this day, evolving into America’s second Independence Day: Juneteenth.
To commemorate Juneteenth by exploring African American history, we also recommend the following collections, originally published in Falvey’s 2020 Juneteenth blog:
- African American Communities (Adam Matthew Digital)
Contains a wide variety of primary sources that document African American community life from the second half of the 19th century with a focus on Atlanta, Chicago, Brooklyn, and North Carolina.
- African American Newspapers: The 19th Century (Accessible Archives)
Provides access to the digital archives of the major 19th century African American newspapers.
- African American Studies Center (Oxford University Press)
Offers a a selection of information sources ranging from the authoritative Encyclopedia of African American History to the African American National Biography project.
- American Slavery Collection (Readex)
Features digital copies of a wide variety of primary sources on the history of slavery and abolition from the American Antiquarian Society.
- Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938 – Texas (Library of Congress)
Transcripts of interviews with former slaves from Texas.
- Black Abolitionist Papers (ProQuest)
Features newspapers articles, manuscripts, letters, pamphlets, and books written by African Americans actively involved in the movement to end slavery in the United States between 1830 and 1865.
- Black Authors, 1556-1922 (Readex)
Contains digital copies of works by African and African-American authors housed in the archives of the Library Company of Philadelphia.
- Black Historical Newspapers (ProQuest)
Offers access to the major African American newspapers of the 20th century.
- Slavery, Abolition & Social Justice (Adam Matthew Digital)
Contains digital copies of manuscripts, court documents, pamphlets, books, paintings, and maps from 1490 to 2007.
Jutta Seibert is Director of Research Services & Scholarly Engagement and Shawn Proctor, MFA, is Communication and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Memorial Library.