Libraries marks Juneteenth with resources for historical, present context

Scans of two lithographs by John Biggers from “Our Grandmothers,” a poem by Maya Angelou (New York: Limited Editions Club, 1994), copy 35 of 400. This recent Eberly Family Special Collections Library acquisition speaks to the themes of slavery, resistance and celebrating ancestors and is a majestic edition of Angelou's poem. The edition is signed by both Angelou and Biggers.The poem ends with the following stanza: Centered on the world’s stage, / she sings to her loves and beloveds, / to her foes and detractors: / However I am perceived and deceived, / However my ignorance and conceits, / lay aside your fears that I will be undone, / for I shall not be moved. – Maya Angelou, from “Our Grandmothers,” first published in the collection “I Shall Not Be Moved” (1990). Credit: John Biggers images provided by Eberly Family Special CollectionsAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In celebration of Juneteenth this Saturday, June 19, Penn State University Libraries has compiled a listing of resources, including books, articles, films, artifacts, exhibits and more, that uplift those voices — throughout history and today ­— who promote the work of dismantling racism, with the intention of providing educational resources and continued dialogue.  

What began as a celebration of the end of slavery in Texas, Juneteenth — an amalgamation of the words June and nineteenth — has become a holiday commemorating the emancipation of slavery throughout the United States. Also called Jubilation Day or Freedom Day, Juneteenth refers to the Monday in 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, that Union soldiers arrived in Galvaston, Texas, and announced the liberation of America’s more than 3 million enslaved people.

Today, Juneteenth is celebrated much as the Fourth of July, with picnics and parties, but the deeper meaning to the day serves as a keen reminder of our shared history of oppression and slavery. The following list gathers resources for anti-racism education and discussion, available as links from the University Libraries, its partners and affiliates. It is by no means exhaustive, but serves as a starting point: 

In addition to many Black studies and DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility) titles, and Black historical newspapers currently being added to the Libraries’ catalog, the University Libraries has recently purchased and has added the African Diaspora 1860-Present database to the Libraries catalog, thanks to donations to the Libraries’ 2020 Giving Tuesday fund. An essential collection for understanding Black history and culture, the database consists of primary source materials highlighting the migrations, communities and ideologies of the African Diaspora through the voices of people of African Descent.   

With commitment to diversifying its holdings and representative resources, the University Libraries is currently in the hiring process for a new position of curator for African American Collections. According to Jennifer Meehan, head of Penn State’s Eberly Family Special Collections Library, the position will play a key and collaborative role in building, stewarding, supporting research and teaching and promoting use and engagement with collections documenting African American life and culture in all formats.

“This position will help advance Libraries’ initiatives to diversify the social and cultural perspectives represented in collections and to support interdisciplinary research and learning, working in close collaboration with the Center for Black Digital Research, collegiate faculty, and Libraries’ faculty and staff,” said Meehan. “We look forward to announcing this new appointment later in the Summer.”

Since 2019, Pennsylvania has recognized June 19 as Juneteenth National Freedom Day. Though Juneteenth has not yet been declared a national holiday, its significance is indisputable as reflected in the historical record and in protest unfolding across the globe today. The above resources are offered to invite dialogue, for continued scholarship and academic research about issues of race and equality.