Documentary to tell the story of Juneteenth

(Photo by Charles Hallman) Lee Jordan

Although Lee Jordan has been working on it for some time now, the local filmmaker’s recent meeting with a local film group virtually has confirmed that his preliminary plans for a documentary on Juneteenth have not been in vain.

There are 43 states, including Minnesota, that annually celebrates Juneteenth in mid-to-late June, notes Jordan. It is considered the oldest known celebration that recognizes the end of slavery in the United States. Even though President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863, some historians say that it was purposely withheld by slaveholders to keep their slaves on plantations in southern states such as Texas but on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger read the executive order to the already freed slaves, who celebrated the news on “Juneteenth.”

Ever since, it was regularly celebrated for many years, then faded away during the Depression years. The Black holiday later saw resurgence in the late 1960s, and became an official state holiday in Texas in 1980.

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Juneteenth is not just Black history but an important part of American history as well, explains Jordan in a recent MSR interview. He hopes to release his Juneteenth documentary next year, which is the 150th anniversary of the holiday.

“I feel very, very blessed that this was laid on my heart” to undertake this project. “In doing so, I have been feeling very, very blessed of the people who want to be involved with me on this project. I know that it will come to fruition.

“This documentary will be an important part of American history, not only in Minnesota but nationwide,” he points out. “I’m trying to show how each state takes the holiday and makes it their own. [It] needs to be recognized.”

While researching for his film, Jordan says he has discovered a few little-discussed facts, such as the origins of Watch Night services in many Black churches, held on New Years’ Eve. “They all wanted to be together on that first day of freedom” after Lincoln’s executive order was signed on the last day of 1865: “I went to Watch Night services for years and years and never really knew why. That little bit of information was amazing to me,” he points out.

Even the historical practice of barbecuing has its roots in the Juneteenth celebration, says Jordan. “That’s the other part of this documentary. It’s important to me that we share these stories because generations have passed away and they are not sharing [them]. If they are not sharing, we are losing a large part of our history.”

He also wants to see Juneteenth each year become “a little more important… and be able to raise people’s consciousness” on the importance of the holiday and its history, which he hopes will take place from seeing his film. “I’ve learned more about each individual state’s fight for freedom. I am going to try to bring all those stories together.

“I have been able to talk to” individual state Juneteenth committee members, and have enjoyed visiting the various places to see how the ‘unofficial holiday’ is planned in the various states, says Jordan. “It’s been educational for a lot of people. The most wonderful thing about this to me is doing the history, to put together the information and finding those threads.

“It could end up being two parts because there is so much to tell, and so much I want to tell,” surmises Jordan. “But at the moment, I will do my best to focus on what is important so that the story will go forward.

“The most difficult issues I feel will keep me up a few nights,” concludes the filmmaker as his work on the project continues. “One, coming up with the right title, and two, finding a balance between the historical aspects of the documentary, the human equation aspect and the entertainment value, and what percentage of each to complete the documentary as a whole.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman [at] spokesman-recorder [dot] com

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Charles Hallman's picture
Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman writes regularly for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and blogs at Another View.