IT’S JUNETEENTH!

 

200617173631-02-juneteenth-flag-super-169
The Juneteenth Flag, created in 1997 by activists associated with the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation.  On June 19, 1865, over two months after the surrender of the main Confederate army in Virginia, the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, learned that they were freed.  This event has come to symbolize the effective end of slavery in the United States.

It’s very heartening to Janakay that 2020’s Juneteenth is being given such wide notice, much more, it appears to her, than in previous years.  In part, of course, this is due to its coinciding with one of those pivotal moments of social protest and, hopefully, social change.  In part — and this is perhaps saying the same thing in a different way — it’s due to the growing awareness among white Americans of a holiday that has been given little attention or prominence by white institutions or a white-dominated media.  Janakay is not proud of the fact, but she was largely unaware of Juneteenth until a few years ago.  But then, Janakay has spent most of her adult life unlearning the version of the American Civil War that she was taught as a child.  The mythology of the “lost cause” and its fantasy of a civil war fought over tariffs and states’ rights rather than freedom and human dignity had no room for a day commemorating the end of a horror that had tainted the country from its beginning.  Could it be that after a century and a half we in these (theoretically) United States are finally willing to lay aside our comforting blanket of false history and recognize the pain and injustice inflicted so long on so many of our fellow citizens?  To acknowledge that all of us are entitled to justice and to ensure that all of us actually receive it?

Well, enough of the soap box!  Let’s observe Juneteenth 2020 with one of Janakay’s favorite formats, the miscellany!

MISCELLANY FIRST:  A New Type of Equestrian Statue

Any fans of Kehinde Wiley out there?  Without being particularly knowledgeable about it, I’ve loved his work since I first saw it in one of my basic art history courses.  Wiley, of course, is best known for his official state portrait of a certain American political leader . . . .

Wiley-KW-PA-17-037_Barack-Obama
Born in South Central Lost Angeles, Wiley was the first African American artist to paint an official presidential portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

Wiley is particularly known for his portraits of young urban Black men, clad in contemporary dress but posed in the manner of the elite of western culture while holding centuries-old symbols of status and power.  It’s a powerful way to bestow dignity and respect on a frequently marginalized group, as well as a slyly subversive comment on how western art has traditionally excluded or marginalized Blacks.

220px-Frans_Hals_042
Haarlem cloth merchant Willem van Heythuysen, painted in 1625 by Frans Hals.
Unknown
Wiley’s 2006 depiction of an equally stylish resident of a far different Harlem

Have any of you, dear readers, traveled through the eastern and/or southern United States?  If so, you will no doubt have noticed the multiplicity of monuments to various leaders and notables of the lost cause, not to mention the omnipresence of their names on streets, parks, buildings and military bases.  For those of you who have successfully avoided current news (congratulations on that, by the way), many of today’s protesters have demanded the removal of these glorifications of the U.S.’ slave-holding past.  Wiley’s elegant and powerful solution (a commission from the Virginia Museum of Fine Art) was the creation of a gigantic bronze equestrian statue that acknowledged the past while creating an image for the present:

Tse-2-Credit-Ka-Man-Tse-for-Times-Square-Arts-768x512@2x
Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War,” temporarily installed in New York City’s Times Square.  Inspired by an early 20th century statue of the Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart, Wiley portrays a young African American male wearing dreads, torn jeans, sneakers and a hoodie.
Rumor-of-War-750x430-1
Another view, showing the full pose.

By sheer chance my visit last November to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (located in Richmond) coincided with the permanent installation of Wiley’s great statute in the plaza in front of the museum.  Although they’re not as detailed as I would wish, my photos do give some idea of the scope and scale of Wiley’s wonderful statue:

0-6
Virginia has more memorials to the Confederacy than any other state in the union.  Wiley’s bronze is a direct response to the critical question of “who matters?”

 

0-9
The human figures give some idea of the statue’s scale; it’s 27 feet (approximately 8.2 meters) high and weighs nearly thirty tons

“Rumors of War” stands only a few blocks away from Richmond’s Monument Avenue, which contains five giant statues of Confederate leaders and is located almost directly across from the Memorial to the Women of the Confederacy.  Well done, Kehinde!

MISCELLANY SECOND:  Remembrance

Have any of you, dear readers, seen “The New Yorker’s” June 22 cover?  The magazine has had some fabulous covers over the years, but this one by artist Kadir Nelson is something exceptional.  Titled “Say Their Names,” it’s a closeup examination of the violence inflicted upon black people in America.  The magazine’s website has an interactive feature that gives you factual information about each of the figures contained within George Floyd’s body, from Floyd himself to Medgar Evers (assassinated in 1963 by a member of the Ku Klux Klan) to Emmett Till (a fourteen year-old lynched in 1955) to “the Unnamed,” the enslaved people who were buried in unmarked graves.

0

For a more all encompassing examination of slavery’s legacy in the U.S., the New York Times 1619 Project is an incredible source of information; it was timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia.

MISCELLANY THIRD:  Hope

7200160A_1
Langston Hughes, a leading 20th century poet and one of the first African American writers to win mainstream acceptance.  This 1925 portrait by Winold Reiss is one of my favorites.  Don’t you love the way the poet’s dreams are portrayed in the background?

The poets always say it best.  What better way to end Juneteenth 2020 than with the hope that Hughes’ plea will, someday, be answered:

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

(excerpt from “Let America Be America Again”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “IT’S JUNETEENTH!

  1. Lovely post – thank you for sharing this. I feel ridiculously ignorant in knowing so little about Juneteenth previously but I think it’s wonderful that it’s being given such a high profile this year – so important. I have read some Langston Hughes, and love what I’ve read – I need to read more. And that portrait is stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Kaggsy: thanks so much for your kind comment! As the years have rolled by, it’s been quite interesting for me to discover how very much I WASN’T taught about quite significant things, or how what I WAS taught has turned out to be, ahem, “mistaken.” Like you, I’ve been very encouraged lately by the movement to complete and correct the historical record and by all the positive attention Juneteenth is receiving.
    I’m so glad you liked the portrait of Langston Hughes–it’s one of my favorite portraits, ever. It conveys so pefectly the poet who is dreaming the visions that he will articulate for the rest of us. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only read a bit of Hughes’ poetry, which is really wonderful (one of my favorites is “I, Too, Sing America”. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47558/i-too ). Juneteenth is a great excuse for my recent purchase of his collected poems!

    Like

  3. Oh, Janakay. Thanks for this post. I’m so ignorant too. I do appreciate this information and how you convey it. I do love Wiley’s approach to this. I have not read any Hughe’s poetry. And yes, that portrait is inspiring.

    Like

  4. Yours is the second recent mention of Langston Hugh’s poem that I have encountered this week. It is amazing and still so powerful.

    You know, I grew up on the other side of the country, so there isn’t much I had to unlearn, but there was still so much I needed to learn about the Civil War that I did not get in school, which is a shame. The American Revolution got a lot more emphasis, probably because it is easier to point the finger at the “bad” guys.

    Like

  5. Ruthiella: I love that poem. It moves me beyond words. In my up moments, I like to think that we’ll actually again pursue Hugh’s dream.
    I find it difficult to believe that y’all never studied the details of “The War Between The States” (even in my childhood, I think we were past calling it the “War of Northern Aggression”! Kidding, of course). And, trust me, the history I was exposed to was very clear in fingering the bad guys, they were very clear cut! And don’t even mention Reconstruction; the “official” version was shameful. In fact, it’s hard to believe just how one-sided, mistaken and prejudiced this “history” was. These days it’s really wonderful to see how scholarship has advanced and how much more objective the history of those times has gotten to be. Mr. Janakay, for example, is well into a new work called The Myth of the Lost Cause, which is doing a great job of de-bunking a lot of the historical garbage that formerly was treated as fact.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s