itself but in such cunning disguise that we never detect
the resemblance until the damage is done.”
Sydney J. Harris, American journalist
There are many who decry that history textbooks in the United States paint a picture of our nation featuring White men in the best possible light, often at the risk of promoting a narrative that is either fantasy-like or missing the detail that makes it factually untrue. This is certainly the situation with the history of racism and oppression of African American people and related to the institution of slavery.
Case in point - the matter of Juneteenth. If you don’t know what that is then you have happened into a good example of whitewashing. Most elementary school textbooks celebrate the fact that Abraham Lincoln enacted the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 and that act freed all African American slaves. This is not entirely true, however. Lincoln used the power of the Executive Order but it would take several years for slaves to be set free from the plantations, particularly in the South. Remember, the Civil War was still raging at that time and wouldn’t come to an official end until April 9, 1865, with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
“Oh people, We created you all from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Verily the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-fearing of you. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware” (49:13).
Why is Juneteenth important for us today? When there are not accurate records of our past, history becomes largely “his-story,” stifled by the perspective of just one set of eyes and ears. In the U.S., we must go beyond the classic history texts to hear the voices that represent many different perspectives of the very same events. This is recognized in the work that is in front of us to make Black Lives Matter. And this is how we make change, first to seek knowledge, then to expand understanding in our hearts, and then to eradicate unjust policies and practices in our society.
Juneteenth has become a catalyst for celebrating Black achievement and examining what we need to do to eradicate racism in our country. This Friday, June 19, take an assertive step to learn more about the past and where we need to head into the future. Here are some good places to start:
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (also in a young readers form)
Before the Mayflower: A History of the Negro in America 1619-1962 by Lerone Bennett
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America by Vincent Harding
(And then check out another event that has also been overlooked in our history – the largest massacre of African American people that took place in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, also known as Black Wall Street, in 1921).
Zahirah Lynn Eppard is Sound Vision’s Director of Religious Education.