Juneteenth, also known as African-American Emancipation Day, is a holiday in the United States that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the State of Texas in 1865. Nearly 2½ years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and despite widespread rumors of freedom for slaves, it was not until Union soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 and Gen. Gordon Granger issued Order No. 3 that slaves learned officially that the Civil War was over and they were emancipated.
Juneteenth – a Novel by Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth opens with the attempted assassination of Sunraider, a race-baiting, southern senator, on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Alonzo Hickman, an African American minister, has brought his congregation to Washington, D.C., to stop the assassination, claiming that he and his church members know Sunraider and know that he is in danger.
They are denied entry to the senator’s office and, eventually, they are thrown out of the lobby by Sunraider’s security. The parish moves on to Senate’s Visitors’ Gallery to watch Sunraider in action. He is giving a riveting speech about black Americans. As Hickman and his parish watch on from the Visitors’ Gallery, an unnamed black man rises up and shoots Sunraider several times. Fleeing the pursuit of security, the assassin falls to his death from the Visitors’ Gallery down to the Senate floor. Hickman is distraught. His only son, the adopted white Sunraider, has somehow transformed himself into racist and, now, he has been mortally wounded right before his eyes.
From his deathbed, Sunraider, with the help of Hickman, begins a lengthy series of flashbacks and recollections to his past. Before becoming a racist senator, Sunraider was a young, white preacher named Bliss Hickman, raised by a parish of kind, religious black Americans. Bliss is a young boy with a remarkable skill for preaching.Bliss is an important aspect to Reverend Hickman’s revivals. He lies in a coffin and eventually rises up representing the resurrection and the life. Bliss moves the parishioners. He is a great preacher, even at his tender young age.
Hickman and Sunraider recount a crucial revival in which a deranged white woman storms through the meeting, claiming that Bliss is her son. She grabs the young white preacher and tries to kidnap him.
Senator Sunraider wakes up in the hospital and is pleasantly surprised that Reverend Hickman is still by his side. The unlikely father and son team discuss the past and Hickman continues their discussion, redirecting it through his recollections about their teamwork at the revivals. Hickman is using his time by the senator’s side to re-educate his son about the struggles of black Americans. The Reverend talks about the history of Juneteenth and how it was not the first, nor the last, step of the black American on his road towards freedom.
It is symbolic that Bliss asked about Juneteenth celebration.
“The occasion? It was another revival, wasn’t it?”
“Course, it was a revival, Bliss – but it was Juneteenth, it went on for seven days.”
“Juneteenth,” the Senator said, “I had forgotten the word!”
“You’ve forgotten lots of important things from those days, Bliss.”
“I suppose so, but to learn some of the things I’ve learned I had to forget some others. Do you still call it ‘Juneteenth,’ Revern’ Hickman? Is it still celebrated?”