NEH Virtual Bookshelf: Juneteenth

Emancipation Day celebration
Photo caption

Celebration of Emancipation Day in 1900, Texas

Credit: Austin Public Library

(June 7, 2024)

Join NEH in celebrating Juneteenth on June 19 with a selection of NEH-funded projects and resources related to Juneteenth and Black Americans' ongoing fight for freedom. Since January 2021, NEH has issued more than $50 million in funding for humanities projects that promote African American history and culture, support HBCUs, and counter hate-motivated violence.

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song
One of the great American art forms, African American poetry encompasses many kinds of verse: formal, experimental, vernacular, lyric, and protest. Edited by Kevin Young, this Library of America anthology gathers material from 250 Black poets from the colonial period to the present. The volume, published in 2020, is the centerpiece of Lift Every Voice, a national public humanities initiative made possible with NEH support. Read an interview with poet Kevin Young about the project at NEH’s HUMANITIES magazine.

Freedmen and Southern Society Project
Long-term NEH funding for the Freedmen and Southern Society project at the University of Maryland is supporting research and editorial work on Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, a nine-volume documentary history of the transition from slavery to freedom in the U.S. South. The project’s editors pored over millions of documents in the National Archives, selecting some 50,000 to transcribe, organize, and annotate to illustrate how Black people traversed the bloody ground from slavery to freedom between the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 and the beginning of Radical Reconstruction in 1867.

Colored Conventions Project
From 1830 until well after the Civil War, African Americans gathered across the United States and Canada to participate in political meetings held at the state and national level. A cornerstone of Black organizing in the nineteenth century, these “colored conventions” brought Black men and women together in a decades-long campaign for civil and human rights. The NEH-funded Colored Conventions Project at the University of Delaware offers interactive, digital exhibits of historical images and documents to provide insight into these gatherings and expand our understanding of early Black organizing.

White House Soul of the Nation Gospel Concert
In April 2022, NEH participated in The White House Soul of the Nation Gospel Concert with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. Produced through a partnership between the White House, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and TV One, the celebration was hosted by Grammy-nominated Juan Winans and featured historical contexts provided by NEH grant-supported humanities scholars. The event featured the NEH-supported Sounding Spirit project at Emory University, a digital library of historical sacred vernacular songbooks published in the southern United States between 1850 and 1925.

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
Scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. recounts the full trajectory of African-American history in his groundbreaking six-part series that takes viewers across five hundred years and two continents to shed new light on the experience of being an African American. The NEH-funded six-hour series and accompanying educational materials are available through PBS.

Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America
W. Caleb McDaniel’s Pulitzer Prize-winning NEH Public Scholars book Sweet Taste of Liberty tells the epic tale of Henrietta Wood, a Black woman who survived kidnapping and re-enslavement and successfully sued her captor for damages, receiving the largest settlement ever awarded by an American court in restitution for slavery.

Civic Season at the Atlanta History Center
Juneteenth to July 4 marks “Civic Season” at the Atlanta History Center, which helps lead the national Made by Us network of history museums and organizations offering an array of activities and events for participants aged 18-30 looking to learn about and deepen their civic commitments. These programs incorporate public programming about historical sites across the country, conversations about reckoning and action, and foregrounds humanistic scholarship. An NEH SHARP grant to the history center supported the expansion of the organization partnership and development of humanities content for the Civic Season activities. NEH funding to the Atlanta History Center has also supported educational materials, activities, and tours for students in grades 5 and up that teaches the history of the non-violent civil rights movement using the museum’s collections.

To Walk About in Freedom: The Long Emancipation of Priscilla Joyner
Published in 2023, Carole Emberton’s To Walk About in Freedom: The Long Emancipation of Priscilla Joyner explores Emancipation and the transition from slavery to freedom through the story of Priscilla Joyner, a woman who lived this experience. Joyner was born in 1858 in North Carolina, and turned five years old the year Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Despite Joyner’s experiences receiving an education and marrying for love, the effects of slavery and the subsequent Jim Crow era of the South followed her throughout her life as she sought to uncover who she was and grappled with her newfound freedom. Emberton’s NEH-funded publication follows Joyner’s path, highlighting the beauty that Joyner found in the world despite the many uncertain and fearful situations she experienced.

African American Families Database
Map the journey of African American families before and after the Civil War with this online database of genealogical records from Albemarle County, Virginia. This digital humanities project from Central Virginia History Researchers is a partnership among local historians, anthropologists, genealogists, and community residents designed to connect African American families to their antebellum roots and trace patterns of community formations in the postbellum period.

Timeline of African American Music
This interactive digital resource from Carnegie Hall lets students, educators, researchers, and music lovers explore the rich history, evolution, and influence of African American music genres dating back more than 400 years, from the earliest folk traditions to present-day popular music. Made possible with support from NEH grants, the timeline is both a historical study and a celebration of living musical traditions. The timeline is organized into three content threads—Sacred Traditions, Secular Traditions, and Jazz Secular Traditions—and offers information on more than 50 musical genres with ties to African American traditions from spirituals and ragtime to jazz and hip-hop, alongside in-depth studies of pioneering musicians who created some of America’s most timeless artistic expressions.

The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr.
Since 1986 NEH has funded the collection, editing, and publication of the definitive edition of the speeches, sermons, correspondence, public statements, published writings, and unpublished manuscripts of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Under the direction of Stanford University historian Clayborne Carson, the project has to date published seven volumes of King’s papers, documenting King’s family roots, rise to prominence, and influence as a national spokesperson for civil rights.

Freedom Riders
Hear the stories of the more than 400 Black and white Americans who risked violent attacks and imprisonment for traveling together on buses through the segregated South as part of the 1961 Freedom Rides. This powerful NEH-supported 2011 documentary by Stanley Nelson tells the harrowing and ultimately inspirational story of six months that changed America forever. Available streaming online at PBS’s American Experience.

Visualizing Emancipation
This interactive map from the University of Richmond collates documentary evidence to demonstrate how emancipation travelled across the American South. The online tool reveals patterns about emancipation that refute the idea that freedom was immediately attained by all. Supported by NEH grants, Visualizing Emancipation invites users to pose their own questions about the data revealed as they explore the map and its patterns.

The Quest for Freedom
Thomasville History Center hosted an NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture workshop focusing on civil rights for K-12 educators from across the country. The workshops highlighted the significance of Thomasville, Georgia, in the U.S. civil rights movement, focusing on reconstruction and civil rights in Thomas County. Educators who attended the workshops travelled to important historic and educational sites in the area and heard from a panel of scholars on aspects of civil rights history.

The Loving Story
The Oscar-shortlisted NEH-supported documentary The Loving Story takes us behind the scenes in the love story and ensuing legal battle of Richard and Mildred Loving,, whose marriage led to the landmark Supreme Court 1967 case, Loving v. Virginia, legalizing interracial marriage. Incorporating newly discovered 16 mm footage of the Lovings and rare documentary photographs, the film shows us the legal challenges and emotional turmoil entailed in the couple’s fight to overturn state anti-miscegenation laws, documenting a seminal moment in American history. Read more about the Lovings and the making of The Loving Story in “The Right to Love” in HUMANTIES magazine.

The Harvest: Integrating Mississippi's Schools
In this NEH grant-funded documentary, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Douglas A. Blackmon reflects on how school integration transformed his hometown of Leland, Mississippi. In 1969—15 years after Brown v. Board of Education—the Supreme Court ordered that Mississippi schools fully — and immediately — desegregate. As a result, a group of children, including six-year-old Blackmon, became part of the first class of Black and white children who would attend all 12 grades together in Leland. It tells the extraordinary story of how that first class became possible, then traces the lives of Blackmon and his classmates, teachers and parents from the first day through high school graduation in 1982. Stream the documentary at PBS American Experience.

Music in the American South
Read about NEH-supported projects that help tell the story of the music of the American South, and how it has been shaped by African American musicians ranging from B.B. King to Lil Nas X. This feature explores NEH grant-funded exhibitions, educational programs, and preservation projects in Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas focusing on music and its connections to the humanities.    

State Humanities Councils:
Many of NEH’s local partners throughout the country, the state and jurisdictional humanities councils, will host public programs and workshops in celebration of Juneteenth. From June 9 to July 28 a Humanities Texas-sponsored exhibition, Juneteenth, will be on display in Galveston, the city known as the birthplace of the Juneteenth holiday. On June 17 Illinois Humanities is sponsoring Juneteenth in Me: A Journey of Remembrance and Education at the Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum. Michigan Humanities will host two events: Juneteenth Over Lake Lansing on June 15, and Juneteenth at the Oak Park Library: Mobile Museum Experience on June 19. The Village Initiative’s Juneteenth Freedom Celebration sponsored by Virginia Humanities will take place on June 19 in Williamsburg.