JUNETEENTH: Freedom Day by Muriel Miller Branch


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A book with an inviting format just adequately explains the African-American celebration and its origins in Texas of the 1900s. In six loosely organized chapters, Branch (The Water Brought Us, 1995) describes Juneteenth--June 19, 1865--the day many slaves in Texas were told of their freedom ""two years, six months, and eighteen days late,"" because the Emancipation Proclamation was dated January 1, 1863. Branch discusses the various reasons and legends that have grown up around this delay, concluding that the slaves were deceived so they would continue as free labor, working on the crops. Spontaneous celebration at the news of freedom led to an annual holiday in Texas, and, as African-Americans moved out of that state, across the country. The text assumes a knowledge of the institution of slavery, who was affected, where they lived, and what life was like for the enslaved; words such as secede are defined, but not white supremacistor lynching. There is a description of what occurred when slaves learned they were free, including a few quotes from primary sources. After a description of the holiday's origins, ""part revival . . . family reunion and homecoming,"" the organization becomes slippery. Branch goes to some length discussing her search for a contemporary celebration; she attends festivals and recounts in detail the organizations and groups that perform, in coverage that reads like a feature article in a small-town newspaper. Sketchy information on how to organize a celebration appears; the book makes use of excellent black-and-white reproductions and amateurish, badly cropped contemporary photographs.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
Page count: 64pp
Publisher: Cobblehill