The Media's Role In Commemorating Juneteenth

I’ve written two items in a week about major media companies rolling out initiatives related to the commemoration of Juneteenth, which is officially celebrated today.

First, Hearst Magazines announced last Monday that it’s launching the latest iteration of its sponsored "Project Tell Me" series, called "Future Rising," timed to coincide with Juneteenth. "Future Rising" is part of a storytelling initiative celebrating the impact of Black culture on American life. 



And today I posted a story about Dotdash Meredith's Parents brand launching Kindred, a digital destination and community created for the parents and caregivers who are raising the next generation of Black children.

Both brand extensions are well-timed. Juneteenth is the date in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger reached Galveston Bay in Texas and read General Orders No. 3, announcing that all enslaved people were free. Granger was accompanied by a contingent of more than 2,000 Union troops, fittingly including elements of the New York 26th and 31st Regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops.

Black Americans immediately began to celebrate the day, first in Texas and eventually in other states. Now it's often called “America’s Second Independence Day,” and last year it became a federal holiday.

Both Hearst’s and Dotdash Meredith’s launches concern themselves with contemporary issues relevant to their audiences. That’s completely appropriate. But in marking this day, it’s always good to reflect on how we as a country got to where we are. In particular, Kindred makes a point of referring to “free” Black children, which means for parents to reject all the many assumptions, impediments and biases that Black kids especially face as they grow up.

I think of how 210,000 Black soldiers fought for the Union Army, a whopping 10% of the total troops who fought. President Lincoln said, "Without the military help of the black freedmen, the war against the South could not have been won.”

I think of the famous 54th Massachusetts regiment, and William Carney, born enslaved but awarded a medal of honor in 1900 for his heroism at Fort Wagner.

But so many people are lost to history, their stories never receiving the attention they deserved.

Most Americans know of the famous 19th century explorers, people like Lewis and Clark or Daniel Boone. But few know the name of Jacob Dodson, a Black man who made multiple journeys to Western North America with the then-famous John Fremont, who was called “The Pathfinder.” Dodson was one of the most important members of those expeditions. But his contributions are obscure or just not known at all.

To add insult to injury, Dodson offered to provide 300 free Black men to the defense of Washington in the first days of the Civil War, but was coldly rejected in a racist response from Secretary of War Simon Cameron. The capital was virtually undefended and facing an imminent potential Confederate assault. Cameron’s response was that the War Department had “no intention at present to call into the service of the Government any colored soldiers.”

Then there’s Henry Flipper, in 1877 the first Black graduate of West Point. Flipper was railroaded out of the U.S. Army, and it wasn’t until 1999 that he was pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

I could go on literally for hundreds of pages about the contributions of Black Americans to our country and culture, many of whose stories are never told. But for now, I’ll salute Hearst and Dotdash Meredith and all the other media brands making the effort to celebrate Juneteenth.

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