June 19, 2021
Dear campus community members,
The 156th anniversary of “Juneteenth” is commemorated by the College this year through our official closing on Friday, June 18. Juneteenth is also historically known as Jubilee Day or Emancipation Day. It represents the day that enslaved people in Texas were officially notified on June 19, 1865 that their freedom had indeed been determined two and half years earlier with the official signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. This delay was rooted in a long history of racism and anti-Black violence. Despite this, many formerly enslaved Black people in Texas joyously celebrated their long fought battle for emancipation.
The first Juneteenth celebration on June 19, 1866 was held in Galveston, Texas and has been celebrated for over 150 years in Black communities around the country. It might have remained in relative obscurity had it not been for the years of activism by people, including 94-year old native Texan Opal Lee, who, at the age of 89, began a 1,400 mile trek marching from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington. D.C in September of 2016. Her campaign and march was focused on the fight for a federally recognized holiday. The United States Senate finally passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day on June 15, 2021. The acknowledgement of Juneteenth as a national holiday should always be linked to the significant activism of this Black woman who understood how important it would be for any true racial reckoning to begin with the acknowledgement of the United States’ history of forcibly removing and enslaving Africans between 1619 and 1865.
The tragic irony is that we recognize that this symbolic effort of recognizing Juneteenth on our campus is not enough to address racial injustice rooted in anti-Black racism as violent assaults towards the Black community have prevailed. June 17 marked another, much more somber anniversary, when nine Black parishioners of the Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church in Charleston, South Carolina were killed on June 17, 2015 by a white supremacist who targeted the church during their weekly Bible study. Opal Lee admonishes us to remember that there is still much work to be done in spite of the victories she’s witnessed this week as a result of her tireless efforts.
At Mount Holyoke, we began to officially recognize Juneteenth with a series of programs in June 2020 in collaboration with Archives and Special Collections, the Office of Community and Belonging, the Office of Student Involvement and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Understanding the important history of why we celebrate Juneteenth necessitates an interrogation of both the joyful nature of the hope and anticipation many African Americans felt upon becoming aware of their freedom. We are committed to moving beyond symbolism and engaging in ongoing, intensive anti-racist strategies, as evidenced by our continuned work and the evolving anti-racism action plan.
We encourage everyone to continue engaging in their own individual and collective journeys towards confronting all forms of oppression and we invite members of our community to learn more about Juneteenth and participate in celebrations around Western Massachusetts and online with the links we’ve provided. This year, we are focused on lifting up one of the primary reasons that Opal Lee and others have invested so much of their blood, sweat and tears into ensuring that Juneteenth be legislated as a federally recognized holiday. Acknowledging Juneteenth is particularly poignant because it is less about giving Americans a symbolic day off and should be focused on having everyone reflect deeply on the long history of violent oppression known as enslavement that subjugated African Americans.
As part of our programming with our 2021 Building On Our Momentum (BOOM!): Community Day, we purchased copies of Clint Smith’s new book, “How the Word is Passed.” We will make it available to community members who would like to be part of a new “Resist Racism Book Club and Podcast” that will be launched this fall. To request a free copy of the book, please complete and submit this book request form. We have limited copies so they will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Members of our leadership team and the DEI Task Force of the Board of Trustees will also be encouraged to read this book for our upcoming dialogues.
Dr. Clint Smith was our 2021 BOOM keynote speaker. You can watch a captioned video of his talk and a very special dialogue with Professor Lucas Wilson and Clint Smith which we have provided as a resource for this Juneteenth (see below). The Common Read Committee has also selected an incredibly exciting book (“The Fire this Time,” edited by Jesmyn Ward) for our community as a part of our anti-racist work.
These texts are critical to the work we seek to do to ensure that every member of our campus community is able to hear from Black activists, scholars and theoreticians who have challenged systemic inequities, tropes and erasures that perpetuate racism. We amplify these voices and others as part of our work to become an anti-racist community and to meet our strategic goals outlined in the College’s anti-racism action plan.
We wish every member of the community who may engage in Juneteenth celebrations a very joyful and conscientious reflection period. We also encourage all who seek to be in solidarity and provide support to Black community members to educate themselves on the significance of this holiday and find ongoing ways to fight anti-Black racism in all of its forms.
To learn more and participate actively:
- Juneteenth Celebrations in Springfield, MA
- Juneteenth Celebrations around Massachusetts
- Juneteenth Celebrations in Amherst, MA
- Virtual Celebration of Juneteenth with the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Videos to Watch
- Stories of Juneteenth with Opal Lee, Annette Gordon-Reid and Evelyn Hammonds
- Clint Smith, How the Word is Passed at Mount Holyoke
- Examining the history of Juneteenth
- Annette Gordon-Reid’s dialogue on Juneteenth
Readings for All
- Annette Gordon-Reid, Juneteenth
- What to Read for the 150th Anniversary of Juneteenth
- Penguin Random House Juneteenth Reading List
- New York Public Library - Kids Books to Read About Juneteenth