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Libraries leading lessons on origins and legacy of Juneteenth in Indy

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Posted at 4:26 PM, Jun 13, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS — Libraries across the Indianapolis metro area are highlighting what some view as "America's Second Independence Day."

The upcoming Juneteenth is a fairly-new date on the U.S. federal holiday calendar, with many Americans still unsure what it is or why it is important.

Libraries are leading a charge to change that.

Pike High School junior Shalon Robinson is a 16-year-old percussionist.

He's played in the marching band, the symphonic band, and the orchestra.

Now, Robinson will bring his talents from school to the Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library Juneteenth Celebration, next Wednesday June 19.

"I'll be hosting a drum circle," Robinson said. "And anybody is welcome to come out and play with us."

Robinson believes in the effort the Vonnegut library is making to educate people about the origins of the federal Juneteeth holiday.

"I love learning," Robinson said. "Especially about my history, I had to learn about it."

Julia Whitehead founded the Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library and is collaborating with many in Indy's Black community, including Robinson, to organize a day for the public to stop by and learn.

"The disservice done to African-Americans in our history is unconscionable," Whitehead said.

"We come together for lots of things, but this day is a little different because it is a celebration of freedom for Black Americans."

The Vonnegut's free Juneteenth event runs from 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. and will feature photos and stories of life on "The Avenue" from locals, recounting the times when Indiana Avenue, where the library and museum is located, was the center of a vibrant, cultural black experience and neighborhood in Indianapolis.

The event will also feature a a drum circle, games for kids and adults, refreshments and a new exhibit.

Just blocks from the Vonnegut, at the Indiana State Library on West Ohio Street, near the Indiana State Capitol, you'll find librarian Suzanne Walker in the Indiana Young Readers Center.

"I think a lot of people don't know about Juneteenth," Walker said. "This is America. This is where we live. We get very excited on July 4. We should also get excited about Juneteenth I think."

Walker has compiled a collection of childrens' books, all with Indiana connections, to help educate about the legacy of Juneteenth.

The State Library also gives visitors access to read the Emancipation Proclamation, the historic U.S. document at the center of Juneteenth.

During our interview, she highlights a book titled, "Freedom Over Me."

The pages are illustrated with vibrant colors and portraits of slaves. The book zeroes in on their dreams.

"The humanity of people is really showcased in this book," Walker said. "They've got a beautiful painting of the person they are talking about and their cost, which is unbelievable. They talk about their work in the plantation, but then they talk about what they would like to be doing as a person."

Just days before Juneteenth, the Indianapolis Central Public Library is hosting its seventh annual "Book Fest and Juneteeth Celebration" on Saturday, June 15.

The library's "Center for Black Literature and Culture" is hosting about a dozen authors to speak about "African Americans and the Arts" and about the lessons we can learn from Juneteenth.

CBCL librarian Bryanna Barnes says this is an event for all-ages, since it is never to early for kids to learn about history.

"If you start a baby off eating mangos or eating fruit," Barnes said. "That's how they develop their palette. Learning your history and the background of where you come from is the same. So you're never too young to start."

The Indy CPL event will also feature a film screening from IU Bloomington Black Film Center & Archive.

The Book Fest and Juneteenth Celebration runs from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. June 15, at the downtown Indy Central Public Library.

The library is closed on Juneteenth, since it is a federal holiday.