In this episode of Talks at GS, Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of On Juneteenth discusses the history of slavery in the United States, her upbringing in Texas and the discriminatory challenges she endured, and how Juneteenth continues to inform our understanding of the long struggle for equality and justice in the United States.
On celebrating Juneteenth as a child: “We celebrated Juneteenth in the summers and that consisted of, for us as children, running around drinking red soda water, which is pop, usually strawberry soda, throwing firecrackers…to me, it was like a Black 4th of July. I mean, we celebrated the 4th of July as well. This was sort of a one-two punch, you know? The beginning with Juneteenth and then July 4th. But this was a holiday that when I was growing up was mainly about Black Texas. I don't know – there may have been whites to celebrate it as well, but definitely Black Texans. And then when it became a state holiday in 1980…everyone celebrated it then, but I would say it was sort of small town celebratory fun day for people of African descent in Texas.
On slavery in Texas: “This vision of Texas as part of a cotton empire fueled the culture of Texas. You said before, you know, people think about the oil man, which is 20th century incarnation or cowboys…but the state is seen almost as a white man, and that's what I say it is. And what I try to do in this book, what I want to do is to talk about all the other people who were there and how slavery was this part of Texas that most people don't think of. When people think of slavery, they may think of Mississippi or Alabama, or, you know, Virginia, something like that. They don't – they know slavery's there in Texas, but they don't see it as shaping the state in any way, but it did and continues to do so.
The episode was recorded on June 18, 2021.