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Books about Juneteenth have been on shelves for decades

Books about Juneteenth have been on shelves for decades

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The U.S. president seems to think no one had heard of Juneteenth celebrations until he, reluctantly, moved a political rally from that day.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that he said: “I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous" and "It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”

All Donald Trump had to do was browse the picture book aisle of bookstores: Not only have titles been published for years, one lauded book came from St. Louis' own Patricia and Fredrick McKissack in 2003.

Before the famous African American writers wrote "Days of Jubilee," there were children's books such as "Freedom's Gifts: A Juneteenth Story" (1997) and "Juneteenth: Freedom Day" (1998). Many others have followed.  There was also Ralph Ellison's well-publicized adult novel "Juneteenth," finally published in 1999.

The McKissacks, who are now both deceased, published more than 100 children's books about black history and folklore. A 2003 review by Dale Singer described "Days of Jubilee," which enlightened many readers before Trump had become aware of the celebrations: 

"If the end of slavery had come in a time like today, everyone could have found out about it at the same time. But word spread much more slowly in the 1860s, so as news of the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War crept across the nation, there were many days of jubilee, as the demise of slavery was known.

"This is the unique point of view that award-winning local authors Patricia and Fredrick McKissack provide in their retelling of how freedom came to African-Americans some seven score years ago. The McKissacks' use of slave narratives - stories told in their own words - makes "Days of Jubilee" particularly effective. The story of Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave from St. Louis who became a seamstress for Mary Todd Lincoln, is quite moving. She tells of the president coming into a room where she was finishing a dress. It was 1862, the depths of the war: "His step was slow and heavy, and his face sad. Like a tired child he threw himself upon a sofa and shaded his eyes with his hands. He was a complete picture of dejection."

"The book mixes such personal stories with the wider sweep of the war and its aftermath. It recounts the various days of jubilee that former slaves celebrated as news of their emancipation spread in 1865 - May 8 (known as Eighta-May) in Mississippi and Louisiana, May 20 in Florida, May 28 in Georgia and June 19 in Texas, which survives today as the celebration of Juneteenth.

"Newly freed families in the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina, giddy with what the McKissacks call "the simple knowledge that they couldn't be separated from one another again," stomped and clapped and sang:

"'Tain't no mo' sellin' today.

"'Tain't no mo' hirin' today.

"'Tain't no mo' pullin' off shirts today.

"'It's stomp down Freedom today.

"'Stomp it down.'"

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