Working at the Norfolk Library comes with a lot of benefits. For example, I’m allowed to bring Fergus with me whenever I’m taking care of him.
The Library also pays for most of my health insurance, which is such a wonderful contribution considering I work there part-time.
I’ve also been afforded opportunities to learn about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Norfolk Library identifies as an anti-racist library and that means doing some deep work to ensure that we are who we say we are. So when it came time for the library to commemorate Juneteenth, we decided learning more about this holiday would be the best way to honor it.
Tomorrow I lead a book discussion of On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed. If you have never read this book written by a Pulitzer-Prize winning historian, then I highly recommend it. It’s well-written, interesting, and a slim 148 pages. It also has me caring about Texas (and US) history in ways I never thought possible.
For example, I learned that the theme park Six Flags Over Texas, which was the original Six Flags, was so named because of the six flags of the countries that ruled over Texas in its history: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the United States, and the Confederate States of America.
Texas was part of the confederacy?!?!?!
Maybe I knew this years ago when I was in grade school or high school and maybe not. Because I had undiagnosed narcolepsy for many of those years and the fact that those years are now approximately 3+ decades ago, I’ve given myself leeway for not remembering a lot of what I learned and experienced.
I always thought of Texas to be a land of oilmen, cowboys and ranchers. This book has taught me that’s not at all the case. Eastern Texas, an area that is vastly green and fertile, was imagined by Stephen F. Austin as, “a western version of the cotton fields of Mississippi that had produced such great wealth for plantation owners.” Austin also knew that the land could never be developed without enslaved people clearing and planting the land as free labor and intensely lobbied Mexico, who was anti-slavery, that no Americans would come without the guarantee of chattel slavery.
Yep. Eastern Texas was developed on the backs of enslaved people all in the name of wealth accumulation for white people. Just like many other states.
Again, maybe I understood this reason why slavery was historically accepted in the development of the US from long ago and maybe I didn’t. Or maybe I’m now looking at this information with the eyes, heart, and mind of a 44-year-old white woman who has seen present-day racial injustice, inequity, and inequality in this country and who is *finally* paying attention to how it’s all connected.
Because you can’t read a book like On Juneteenth and not look at the bigger picture. Or realize that there are truths out there, you just had the privilege of not knowing about them. Imagine what would it mean if we were taught in school the words of Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, in his 1861 Cornerstone speech:
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
How many times have I heard people say the Civil War was about states’ rights? These words unequivocally show otherwise.
If we heard Alexander Stephens’ words taught in schools today, perhaps we would better recognize the deep-seated racism that existed and continues to exist in this country. You know, the kind of racism that gets some books banned in school districts or libraries because they suggest racism still exists.
If I could, I would give a copy of On Juneteenth to everyone in the United States. Then I would invite them to the Norfolk Library, either in-person or on-line, to talk about it. Because that’s what we do at the Norfolk Library and I’m glad to be a part of it.
If you decide to read On Juneteenth as a result of this post, let me know. The Norfolk Library’s book discussion is tomorrow night at 7:00pm, but that doesn’t mean we can’t schedule another one in the future or have a Zoom chat about it.