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The Importance of Juneteenth with Kim Taylor

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

Kim Taylor shares A Flag for Juneteenth, a unique and powerful story of the celebration of the first Juneteenth, from the perspective of a young girl.

BOOK DESCRIPTION

NOTABLE QUOTES

ADDITIONAL LINKS

TALK ABOUT THE EPISODE

CREDITS

AFFILATE LINK DISCLAIMER


Listen along:


[1:14] Introduction


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.


I am a teacher, a librarian, and a fan of kids. And not only that, but I just finished my 16th year of teaching! It’s summer break! Yay!


And what exactly does this teacher do for summer break? Well, I rest, first and foremost. I read… a lot… and try to catch up on books that have been waiting for me. I spend lots and lots of time biking and hiking and swimming and hanging out with my family. And I also reflect.


I reflect on the school year. I think about the memories made, but also look ahead to the new things I’d like to try or explore next year. Many, many of these ideas come from reading great books, like the one we’re talking about today.



[2:12] Book Summary


Matthew: A Flag for Juneteenth by Kim Taylor



Expert quilter Kim Taylor shares a unique and powerful story of the celebration of the first Juneteenth, from the perspective of a young girl.


On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, General Gordon Granger of the Union Army delivered the message that African Americans in Texas were free. Since then, Juneteenth, as the day has come to be known, has steadily gained recognition throughout the United States. ln 2020,a powerful wave of protests and demonstrations calling for racial justice and equality brought new awareness to the significance of the holiday.


A Flag for Juneteenth depicts a close-knit community of enslaved African Americans on a plantation in Texas, the day before the announcement is to be made that all enslaved people are free. Young Huldah, who is preparing to celebrate her tenth birthday, can’t possibly anticipate how much her life will change that Juneteenth morning. The story follows Huldah and her community as they process the news of their freedom and celebrate together by creating a community freedom flag.


Debut author and artist Kim Taylor sets this story apart by applying her skills as an expert quilter. Each of the illustrations has been lovingly hand sewn and quilted, giving the book a homespun, tactile quality that is altogether unique.



[3:45] Meet Our Guest: Kim Taylor


Kim: Hi, everybody. I am so excited to be here with you. This is fabulous.

So, my name is Kim Taylor. I'm a speech and language pathologist, which is a type of teacher that works with students to help them to communicate more effectively, communicate better. So I love doing my job. I've worked with all kinds of kids, all kinds of ages from very, very young to. bigger kids like you guys. So I love my job and I have a really good time doing it.


I work in a school for deaf children and those are children who, um, have hearing, um, loss, and I work with them to help them to communicate better. I sign and I have so much fun with my job. I love it.


So, besides being a speech therapist, I'm also a mom. My daughter is 21 years old and is getting ready to graduate soon. And I live in house. And I have so much fun gardening and watching birds, so I love that kind of stuff.


But I'm also an author, a new author. I just wrote a book. I'm the author of A Flag for Juneteenth. And not only am I an author of that book, but I'm also the illustrator of that book.


[5:16] What is Juneteenth?


Matthew: There may be a number of you listening for whom Juneteenth is a new word. Juneteenth has been celebrated for 157 years, but only became a federally recognized holiday in 2021.


Jonah: Juneteenth is the day when slavery officially ended, where slaves weren’t enslaved anymore and they were free.


Matthew: That’s Jonah.


Jonah: Hi, my name is Jonah.


Matthew: Juneteenth has a couple of different names that are used in different parts of the country, kinda like how Independence Day in the US is sometimes shortened to “The Fourth of July”, which is the day on which it’s observed. Juneteenth is also known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day.


But if you’re just at the point of asking, “What is Juneteenth?”, you are right where you need to be for today. Here’s Kim.


Kim: So that's a great question. And let me start by saying that until just a few years ago, I didn't know anything about Juneteenth. So this has been a great journey for me, learning all about it and then writing a book about it.


So Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of enslavement. In 1865, for people in Texas, specifically Galveston, Texas, and this was a celebration, a jubilee, an exciting time. It just so happens that it happened on June 19th. So Juneteenth is sort of a way to put both of those words together. So instead of saying June 19th, those words come together and it forms the word “Juneteenth”.



[7:10] Word Did Not Spread So Quickly


Matthew: The American Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 between the Union and the Confederacy. The Union consisted of 20 states including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and others. They were known as the North and Abraham Lincoln was their president.


There were 11 states in the Confederacy, including Virginia, North and South Carolina, Texas, and others. Known as the South, they did not recognize Abraham Lincoln as their president. Instead, their president was Jefferson Davis.


The key issue of the American Civil War was states’ rights, but slavery played a large role in the conflict. Generally speaking, the North sought to end slavery while the South fought to uphold it.


In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed a document to end slavery in all states. This document was called the Emancipation Proclamation. It would be another two years until slavery was abolished in every corner of the nation.


But why did it take that long for word to spread?


Kim: There were a couple of different theories about that. So like you said, um, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1st, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. And then word of freedom didn't reach the people in Galveston, Texas until June 19th. Juneteenth of 1865. So that's more than two years later.


So there are a couple of theories about why that happened. Some people think maybe because we didn't have all the great things that we have today to get messages across, so it just took a really long time to get the message there.


Some people think that maybe something happened to the messenger, maybe he got lost. Who knows? That's possible.


But the thing that I think, um, is probably the most likely explanation is that the people that, um, owned the plantation and enslaved the people on the plantation really wanted their work to finish getting done. So the people that were enslaved were doing a lot of work on the plantation to make it run and to make the owners of the plantation a lot of money. So they would pick cotton or, uh, in some places rice, there were a lot of different things that the plantation owners could sell. And if they told the enslaved people that they were free, then they would stop working. And just, you know, maybe even leave the plantation. So, uh, the plantation owners didn't really wanna tell them it was a choice. And they continued to work until Word got to them.


Eventually word did get to them. The Union soldiers rode into the plantations and told all of the enslaved people and the owners of the plantations that everyone had the right to be free and not have to work for no money and no pay, and, um, very little to eat sometimes.


So, um, you know, there was a lot of joyous reaction to that, a lot of celebration.



[10:24] From a Party to a Quilt


Matthew: Kim mentioned earlier that she works as a speech and language pathologist in a school, but she did not yet mention that she also has a talent for making quilts and telling stories through the images she includes in each block of the quilts she makes.


Kim: It really came out of necessity. Like, I really felt like I had to tell this story. And the reason for that is that about seven years ago, I went to a party, a big celebration for Juneteenth. And at that time I had never heard of Juneteenth. I had no idea what that was about, but I heard the word “party” and I was really excited about that.


So I went to the party and it was a celebration about Juneteenth and there were so many great things happening. There was music and food and people rejoicing and poetry, and just a lot of beautiful excitement.


And so as soon as I finished at that party, I went home and I started to research Juneteenth because I had never heard of it before. And then I was really sad about the fact that. I was an older adult and I had never heard of it. And I was sad about the fact that it wasn't taught to me in school. And that my parents had not taught it to me because they probably weren't taught about it in school. And so I felt like, you know, I really had to do something to express myself.


And I like to create quilts, story quilts. So I made a huge story quilt about Juneteenth and people thought it was great and started to ask me to show it around to some schools and festivals. And I would show my quilts. And everybody said, “What? What's Juneteenth?” So then I said, “You know what, maybe I'll write a story about it.”


So I wrote a little story just really to help, um, young people, students, and some adults know a little bit more about the history of Juneteenth. But it wasn't a book idea yet. It was really just sort of a story to help me explain my quilts.


And so then a few years later when the pandemic hit, I was really stuck home, like many of my young readers, you know, had to do school from home. I had to work from home, so, As soon as work was finished in the afternoon, I decided I would work on making that story into a book.


And that's what I did. And when I first wrote it, it was a whole lot of words, and you probably believe wouldn't have wanted to read it because it was very, very long.

And when my publisher at that time, my agent said, “You know, children's books are a little bit shorter”, I decided I would cut it down, edit it, and I was able to do that successfully, which is unusual.


And, um, I'm really excited about it. It came out really well.



[13:38] BREAK


[13:45] Things Left Out in the Illustrations


Matthew: Welcome back. Before the break, Kim shared that attending a Juneteenth party led her to doing a whole lot of research on the topic and then channeling that knowledge into a story quilt. There’s a detail about the quilt images used to illustrate A Flag for Junteenth that we did not mention yet and it is this: none of the people depicted in the book have a face. No eyes, ears, mouth, or nose.


This is intentional and is something of an invitation to you, the readers, to see yourself in this book.


Kim: So, when I was a little girl, I was an avid reader. I mean, really, literally everything I could get my, anything I could get my hands on. I love to read. But I also recognize that while I was reading, I was taken to so many amazing places and I was able to use my imagination and guess what the characters look like and you know, really see them.


And I remember if there were a movie made about the book I had read and I went to the movie, I was so disappointed because the characters didn't look like what I had imagined they'd look like, you know?


So, I really felt connected when I was reading stories and imagining these characters in my mind's eye. What, what did they look like? What did they seem like? What did they do? How did they hold themselves? And so when I wrote this book, um, I'm a quilter, so all of the illustrations are sewn quilts, very small, like, a little bigger than a book page, a very big book page.


So, I really felt like I wanted to express a lot of emotions in my illustrations. And one of the things I wanted my readers to do was to connect deeply with the characters. I wanted them to care about the characters. But more than anything else, I wanted them to see themselves in the characters. And, um, I thought it was a good idea to not put faces on them so that whoever was reading my book could see themselves as my main character as the other characters in the book.


And um, it's interesting because I've read this book, um, to a couple of second grade classes and I remember one little boy saying, “You know what? I think she looks like you.” And then another child said, “I think she might look like my sister.” And then I said, “You know, maybe she looks like you.” You know?


So they can really decide what my main character, her name is Huldah, what Huldah looks like, what her family looks like, and this way they can feel connected and recognize that really we're all people and we should all care about each other and we should all, um, feel connected on a deep level with each other.


And I was hoping that that would come through in the book. And it, and it really did, like you were saying before, Matthew, it really did challenge me to figure out how to express emotions in other ways. You know, it's not always through facial expressions. Sometimes it's through touch or, um, hugging your mom or dad. You don't have to see their face, but to know that they love you. You know? And sometimes the warmth of that touch is enough. So, um, I was hoping that that would come through and I think it might have.


[17:34] Zooming in on the Individual People in History


Matthew: For Kim, creating A Flag for Juneteenth was an opportunity to learn more about history and its people, but also to learn about herself.


Kim: On a personal level, I learned a lot about myself because I did not, I never illustrated before. I never took art classes.So even though I like to make story quilts, I was self-taught. So, you know, creating the illustrations for this book was very scary at first, and, um, I learned a lot about my own resilience and, um, and my own creativity. and my own, um, ability because I don't think, uh, without doing this, I don't think I would've recognized that I could do it. So I'm glad that I jumped in and I agreed to do it.


And what I learned about Juneteenth, about that time in history, that significant time in American history was that sometimes when we talk about the time of enslavement, we think about a group of people having a shared collective experience, which is true, but we failed to look at the individuals in that story. And I made myself do that because I felt like in order to write this book I had to care about this time in history on a deeper level.

I hate to keep using that word, but I really, I had to really feel it.


And what I did was I ended up looking through so many pictures of enslaved people at that time, connecting with them through pictures and deciding what I thought maybe their personalities were, like, what were their lives like. I'd look at their eyes to see how do I feel like they're really feeling? I really wanted to know them. So that I could do justice to this book. I wasn't just writing about a time, I was writing about people, and that is really important to remember that these were people, human beings who had all of the same desires and loves and maybe things they didn't like maybe they didn't like a certain food. Who knows? I mean, I know I didn't like peas when I was growing up. I like 'em now, but, you know, I mean, what were these people, um, really feeling back then?


There was one little girl whose picture showed up and um, I just felt like she seemed so much like my main character. And so while I was writing about my main character building the story, I kept her image in my mind. And, um, I think that was what I learned the most was that. I needed to connect with the people in my story on a deeper level, and by looking at pictures and reading and sometimes even listening to their voices, uh, the Library of Congress has some great, um, audio and um, I really made sure that, um, I was writing about true people.


So that was what I learned, you know, that they had families and they tried really hard to make sure they connected with their families. And it wasn't always easy to do that outside of their labor. And they didn't have a lot of time, a lot of free time to be with their families, but they worked really hard to figure out how to do that.


So, I learned a lot about them.


[21:42] Read Aloud


Matthew: All of that research and attention and care for the voices and the faces and the stories that spoke to her during her process came together to make a beautiful picture book for readers of any age to enjoy. Let’s listen as Kim shares an excerpt from her story.


Kim: In my story, Huldah is very excited about learning about her freedom and her family's freedom. And when the people in this community in this town are rejoicing. Everybody's doing something.


The women on the plantation are sewing. They were master sewers. They were amazing sewers. So they were sewing, um, freedom flags, and the kids were searching for, um, branches from the trees to make flag poles. And the men on the plantation were carving the flag poles with really cool symbols, um, that come from Ghana in Africa. They're called Adinkra symbols. And this particular symbol that holds status carving is called fawohodie. It means independence and freedom.


So I'll read you a little bit, um, on that area, that section.



Baby Eve linked in the bright sunshine. A group of excited women made plans as they sewed freedom flags. Eve and I watched as their hands made quick perfect stitches. Many looked like the patch were quilts that kept us warm at night. Jacob Menard, the oldest man on the plantation, hobbled to the center of the square. He held his walking stick high in the air.


‘Today is a jubilee! A day to celebrate our freedom.”’


Laughing children searched for smooth tree branches to use as flagpoles.


‘Find a stick! Find a stick! Not too thin, not too thick!’


‘Make a flag for all to see! Make a flag for Jubilee!’”


[23:58 ] A Message From Kim Taylor


Matthew: It is that time: when we say goodbye for now to Kim. I am grateful to her for teaching us about Juneteenth and word spreading after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. I loved learning that she doesn’t come from a traditional illustration background, but that she used her voice as a storyteller and story quilter to communicate. And I feel gratitude that Kim remembered wanting to see herself in the characters she read about as a kid, and so she purposefully saved space for all of her readers today to see themselves in Huldah’s story.


As I prepare my library for the next time it is full of children, and as you prepare for whatever is coming next in your day, Kim shared the following message:


Kim: Thank you guys for being so interested in my book, first of all. I'm really excited about that. I'm hoping that you'll be able to read it soon, and I'd like for you to make this promise to yourself that you will always remember that Black history is American history and that we are all very important and that that time in history is important, just like any other time in history. It's really important to be always curious and always wanna learn more.



[25:28] Closing


Matthew: The Children’s Book Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner.


Follow the show wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.


Kim? Where can listeners find you?


Kim: So, I do have a website and my book is on the website, but it's all about my quilting also. So, the website is called MaterialGirlStoryQuilts.com.


I think that the best gift that you guys could give me is to find a way to read my book, bring your parents to the bookstore, show them the book, and read with them, and then try to discover more about that time in history. It's really important.


Matthew: Visit matthewcwinner.com for a full transcript of this episode plus some questions that you can use as you think about this episode.


You can also reach out and let me know when you first learned about Juneteenth. It’s a holiday I only learned about in the past 5 years or so, but it’s one that I now make sure is always on my calendar.


Write to me or send me a message at matthewmakespods@gmail.com. That’s M-A-T-T-H-E-W M-A-K-E-S P-O-D-S at gmail dot com.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/).


Our music is by Podington Bear.


Podcast hosting by Libsyn.


You can support the show and buy me a coffee at www.matthewcwinner.com.


We are a proud member of Kids Listen, the best place to discover the best in kids podcasts. Learn more at kidslisten.org.


Fellow teachers and librarians, want a way to explore building a stronger culture of reading in our communities? I have the perfect summer podcast listen for you! In The Reading Culture podcast, Beanstack co-founder Jordan Bookey hosts conversations that dive into beloved authors' personal journeys and insights into motivating young people to read. It’s truly such a great show! Check out the Reading Culture Podcast with Jordan Bookey, from Beanstack. Available wherever podcasts are found.


Be well. And read on.


Jonah: Just be yourself and don’t worry what other people think of you.



End Of Episode

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