NOTE: BagNewsNotes is now located at Please update your bookmarks.

You will be automatically redirected in a few seconds...

« "Locating" Those Head Scarves | Main | How Delicate Is Unity »

Jun 25, 2008

Your Turn: Juneteenth


Earlier this week, a reader directed me to a slideshow on the Austin American-Statesman website.  She had been particularly transfixed by this image which the editors ran on the front page three columns wide below the fold.  The shot shows Miss Juneteenth, Jaquece Black, 18, waving to the crowd at the Juneteenth Parade in Austin.

I've been similarly fascinated by the shot, and was curious to see how you read it.  Juneteenth, if you're not familiar by the way, is celebrated on June 19 in twenty-nine states, and commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas.

Juneteenth Parade in Austin - slideshow (

(h/t: Charlene.  image: Jay Janner/American-Statesman. June 19, 2008)


My immediately reaction (after lovely young lady, of course!) was to the way the block-letter word "POWER" is framed between the lady's smiling face and big hand, distorted by a wide-angle lens.

I find most of these pictures to be condescending to blacks at best, racist at worst. And I find myself surprised by that. Living in Houston, we've long had the impression that Austin was the more progressive, liberal and "cool" city.

Here's what this particular picture says to me: "If this is all that 'Black Power' has to offer today, then we white folk have nuthin' to worry about. It's all just pretty women, cute little kids and poverty. The big scary black-power man of the '60's is gone."

I'd LIKE to think the paper is simply trying to communicate a subliminal message to the older white voters down here that Obama will be "safe" to vote for. That he's nothing like the black men they were so afraid of back during the riots of '68 and all ...

But I'm not so sure.

My first thought is that no woman would want a picture of her armpit in the paper, even if she is wearing a tiara. Second is that black women will elect Barack, maybe? In the volunteering I've done for the campaign, each time I've met a black woman who says she's never been interested or involved in politics before this campaign.

How about this picture from a column on The Root:

To K, who posted the comment that this photo seems condescending, I recommend viewing the other photos in the slideshow, which provide some necessary context. The parade/event appears to have been much larger than this single photo implies. It might not change your opinion but it's worth a look.

To catfood: I did watch the entire slideshow before posting.

I'm still left wondering if the AA-S was being racist or otherwise. The Buffalo Soldier, Arthur White, looks proud and angry, yet too old to pose a threat. I wonder if they're mocking the glorious colors, beauty and hair of Nina Henderson. Surely Bryston Wilson could have had a shot wherein he was breathing in, rather than blowing out, as he plays his baritone.

I'm just wondering what is going on here. I truly don't know.

Reviewing the entirety of the slide show, I see a reflection of great, well-deserved community pride. I see talented and self-disciplined individuals working together. In those photos featuring members of more than one race, I see no depiction of fear or lack of comfort in facial expression or body language. (The photo of the police chief seems to show the crowd, which he has passed, ignoring him, but his expression does not evidence any perception of slight.)

The photographer of these scenes, Jay Janner, seems to be assigned primarily to the sports and music beat. His (readily available, published) work doesn't show a particularly close connection to the African-American community in Austin, nor does it show any hostility or lack of comfort with that community. (Images associated with Mr. Janner available through a Google search for "'Jay Janner' Austin" - -- or, if you prefer, )

Now, as to the "Black Power" photo, featuring "Jaquece Black", Miss Junteenth. Does this photo suggest the personal power of an attractive, self-possessed individual? Or does it suggest the power of the African-American community putting on this parade? In either reading, the photo(s) seem(s) to suggest that America has nothing to fear from the empowerment of a segment of our populous which has long been disempowered.

I'd like to make another point. Largely,I feel, we don't really know those who are different from us. Even when we all speak English, our "languages" differ, we "hear" and "see" different things.

These differences are not just based upon race, but upon gender (e.g.: Barack vs. Hillary), religion, national origin, financial and social status, education, and more.

In the interest in trying to "know" Barack Obama, the nation is being exposed to, observing, and contemplating scenes from the African American community that we would have virtually ignored not long ago.

We are getting the chance to know each other again, for the first time. A very hopeful development, indeed.

The next face of power is young black women?

Looks like a fun day. I love a parade.

I am more comforted by the smiles of policemen than those of beauty queens. The happy chief was my favorite photo.

Michael Shaw notes:
"Juneteenth, if you're not familiar by the way, is celebrated on June 19 in twenty-nine states, and commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas."

keif adds:
...more than two full years after the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863. The announcement regarding emancipation is made in Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865.

The Buffalo Soldier, in glorious color, was my favorite in the slide show. Other exhibits I've seen of their barracks and so forth have been older B&W photos. And you have to go some to find those! Perhaps it was in the Atlanta History Center where I once saw a fairly extensive display.

What a wonderful slideshow. Smallish, local, everybody either participating or watching. Real America, this is. I was glad to see some white faces (and the Hispanic Chief) smiling. A great day for everybody. Pretty girls never hurt.

African-American influence in our culture - priceless.

I hate to play the drunken party crasher, but.....

What I saw was a pretty girl waving and between her arm and her tiara is the word POWER. It's as if it were a warning. Behind the handsome black man and his lust for the presidency lies the feared black POWER. The side of the building being black, plus the word POWER is something I'm sure is not lost on racists. A not too subtle warning to all the white supremacists out there. One can only assume that the photographer planted himself in that spot and waited for the pretty girl. Because, really, it's not that great of an image. Too crowded, people looking in all directions and the distorted hand framing the building.

I do agree the Buffalo Soldier is a great shot.


I understand the way you interpret the language of the photo, but when viewed alternately, and perhaps with the entire scope of it in mind, I see it a lot more hopefully. Yes, it is a warning to white supremacists, but also to anyone who would divide the nation along racial lines.

Notice how she and her retinue are elevated and moving away from the "black power" building. With her hand she seems to be waving away the stark juxtaposition of the black and white buildings (in other words, racial animosity), signalling that finally, hundreds of years after the announcement of abolition, it's something to be commemorated, but nonetheless a vestige of the past. Joyously, the entire parade is moving forward toward the future, content with its many shades of gray.

Other notable points: the confused youths, left behind by the procession seem to symbolize those still angry, looking for revenge but seeing instead conciliatory progress. Also, the young boy with crown and scepter seems to denote that the power fueling this progress will rest constantly with every new generation, reassuring us that there will always be an opportunity for positive change.

Especially after viewing the slideshow, I saw what I interpreted as the promise of America (i.e. a colorblind society). Though the theme dealt with cultural heritage (Juneteenth), otherwise it was just a parade, same as anyone's. Everyone was enjoying viewing it or being in it. It is a tribute to the words and actions of MLK and other activists that helped bring this reality about. I really enjoyed seeing the thrill on the faces of Miss Juneteenth, the other float rider, and the body language of the third child (what fun riding up there!).

Last line should read "other riders" as the children in the float behind look as if they're having a grand time as well.

The photographs were not what I would have chosen to represent Juneteenth.
Knowing the questionable history of the newspaper and Juneteenth, I am not surprised. However, let's focus on the meaning of Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is America’s 2nd Independence Day celebration. Americans of African descent were trapped in the tyranny of enslavement on the country's first "4th of July", 1776, Independence Day. We honor our ancestors, Americans of African descent, who heard the news of freedom and celebrated with great joy and jubilation, on the "19th of June", Juneteenth, 1865.

It took over 88 years for the news of freedom to be announced in Southwest Texas, over two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln.

The National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign has worked diligently for several years to establish legislation in 29 states to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or state holiday observance, the District of Columbia, as well as the Congress of the United States. This has been a great accomplishment for the "Modern Juneteenth Movement" in America, reaching far beyond the establishment of Juneteenth as a state holiday in the place were it all began, in Texas, first celebrated in 1980.

Together we will see Juneteenth become a National Holiday in America!

Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D.
National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign
National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF)
National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council (NJCLC)

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

My Other Accounts

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 07/2003