On Friday, in commemoration of the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, Luther College hosted and filmed a mini virtual symposium featuring Guy Nave, Professor of Religion; Novian Whitsitt, Professor of English and Identity Studies; and Jacqueline Wilkie, Professor Emerita History.
The faculty members addressed the history and meaning of Juneteenth, the historical context and impact of the 1921 Tulsa race riot, and reasons why much of the racial history of the U.S. remains little known to the general public.
Guy Nave, Professor of Religion, explored the history and meaning of Juneteenth. Professor Nave, when addressing the cultural meaning of Juneteenth, said: “Most black Americans do not observe Juneteenth as a way of celebrating what a racist slaveholding nation did for black people on June 19, 1865. Instead,” Professor Nave continued, “black Americans observe Juneteenth as a way of honoring and celebrating what black people have done for themselves in a nation that has never unequivocally declared that black lives matter.”
“Juneteenth,” said Professor Nave, “commemorates and celebrates a significant turning point that has sparked other turning points in the struggle of black Americans for genuine freedom in this nation. It is a reminder of the strength and power of black perseverance in the face of the unspeakable horrors of slavery. It is also a source of strength for continued perseverance in the struggle against the ongoing horrors of systemic and structural oppression and racialized violence committed against black people in this nation.” (A copy of Guy Nave’s prepared remarks can be found here.)
Novian Whitsitt, Professor of English and Identity Studies, described the historical context and impact of the 1921 Tulsa race riot, which, Professor Whitsitt noted, has been described as the “most devastating and violent racial attack in U.S. history.” The Tulsa race riot, explains Professor Whitsitt, was not a novel occurrence. Black Americans were subject to racial injustice and violence since Reconstruction and for centuries before. However, around the turn of the 20th century, Professor Whitsitt notes that violence towards black Americans increased, fermenting into countless race riots in early decades of the 20th century. Professor Whitsitt describes the socio-economic forces which, in most cases, precipitated these nationwide instances of violent unrest.
Jacqueline Wilkie, Professor Emerita History, explored reasons why much of the racial history of the U.S. remains little known by the general public. She described the historical narrative that has been taught and reinforced by U.S. schools since the middle of the 20th century. This narrative, argues Professor Wilkie, misrepresents America’s history, emphasizing the mythos of American Exceptionalism, and downplaying–or willfully ignoring–America’s history of racial injustice, including slavery, segregation, the Southern caste system, voter suppression, red-lining, and racially-charged violence. Professor Wilkie notes that this narrative of American exceptionalism stems, in part, from a historical narrative disseminated by a group of Southern activists–known as “the Redeemers–near the end of Reconstruction who sought to spin a narrative that redeemed the South. This false narrative, Professor Wilkie said, is known today by historians as the “lost cause myth” and, unfortunately, has been the predominant historical narrative taught in schools since the middle of the 20th century.