Portraits of formerly enslaved Black Americans taken in 1937 Texas as part of the WPA. Clockwise from top left: Bob Lemmons of Carrizo Springs, Texas; Francis Black of Texarkana; Cato Carter of Dallas; Annie Moore Schwein of Corpus Christi; Mose Hursey of Dallas; Mother Anne Clark of El Paso; Willis Winn, near Marshall, Texas, with a horn with which enslaved people were called; and Betty Bormer of Ft. Worth. (all images courtesy the Library of Congress)

This article is part of Sunday Edition: “Juneteenth.”

I didn’t grow up in the United States so there are aspects to this country that continue to fascinate me, particularly regional differences that reflect local cultural histories. I’d never heard of Juneteenth until I arrived in New York over 20 years ago, and from the first time I heard it mentioned I was curious to learn more about a celebration that started in Texas and marked the liberation of the last enslaved populations in the US.

In the last few years, calls to commemorate the day have grown louder, and last week four US Senators proposed a bill to make the day a federal holiday. Juneteenth is already recognized by 47 states as a state holiday or observance, but it’s curious how little Americans know about the day itself.

With the added attention, new research is helping to unearth previously unknown facts about an event that was celebrated by Black Americans largely outside of the white-dominated mainstream for over 150 years. One of the curious realities we encountered when preparing this issue is that 1865, when Juneteenth began, may mark the end of chattel slavery in this country, but it also was the year, as Jasmine Weber illuminates in her article, when the Ku Klux Klan was founded, demonstrating that white Americans have long been Janus-faced in their attitudes towards Black people.

I hope this issue, which we began earlier this year before the new wave of attention around the holiday arrived, will reveal some of the complicated and powerful stories that orbit Juneteenth. I hope it is also a reminder that liberation has never been a destination, as scholar Leigh Raiford reminds us in a long conversation on photographs of liberation, but a movement that is always in motion.

This week’s edition includes:

  • A conversation with scholar Leigh Raiford about the absence of large photograph archives for Juneteenth and what it tells us about photography’s role in documenting the liberation struggle
  • Scholar Cherise Smith writing about her own family’s relationship to Blackness and how digital spaces are starting to manifest new troubling forms of digital blackface
  • Artist Deborah Roberts reflecting on her own family Juneteenth celebrations writes, “I learned to love Juneteenth long before I became aware of the emancipation of enslaved Black people.”
  • Curator Lise Ragbir examining the breadth of art by Black artists in Texas and their relationship to the state’s complicated history
  • Jasmine Weber looking at a powerful, and now destroyed, Mexican mural by American artist John Wilson about the rise of the KKK and their regime of terror against Black Americans
  • TriniGambianAmerican poet Rosamond S. King offering us poems on the theme of liberation

I hope you enjoy this edition of Hyperallergic Sunday, which has been co-edited with Seph Rodney, and use it as an opportunity to learn more about a celebration of the end of one of the most grotesque institutions in US history and a reminder that really none of us can be free unless all of us are free.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.