On this day (June 19) in 1865, Black residents of Galveston, Texas, learned from Union troops that they were free from enslavement. This day of liberation is now known as Juneteenth, but many Americans have no idea why today matters. Veteran actress Jenifer Lewis (“Black-ish”) says that she definitely didn’t learn about Juneteenth in school.
“We were enslaved, so they didn’t teach it in the schools because they knew it was wrong,” Lewis said on an episode of WNYC Studios’ “The Takeaway” today. “And certainly, Juneteenth would never have been discussed because, you know, they waited until after a harvest before they told the people that were enslaved.”
Lewis went on to discuss the Juneteenth-focused musical episode of “Black-ish” that aired last year. The episode envisioned the Johnsons in 1865, learning about their liberation while encountering new versions of the same racism that prompted enslavement. Lewis praised the episode while making a plea for more people to learn about this aspect of American history.
“What we need is what the writers did and what [“Black-ish” creator] Kenya Barris did for Juneteenth: They told the truth!” she said. “The fact that they didn’t teach it in schools was wrong.”
Lewis just might get her wish. Deadline reports today that Barris will partner with Pharrell Williams for a new stage musical about Juneteenth.
Listen to Lewis’ full interview: