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I started writing children’s books because I wanted my children and more children like them to have access to joyous, original stories with protagonists that look like them. Fun stories that inspire positivity, encouragement, thought, laughter, and that, bottom line, let people see black and brown kids as kids.
So when I was presented with the opportunity to write a book about Juneteenth, I was admittedly a little torn.
While I had always known about the heinous circumstances that were the impetus for the first Juneteenth, my personal Juneteenth memories have mostly been cocooned in joyous summertime memories from my hometown, Buffalo, NY. Juneteenth is part of my family’s history. My grandfather, Judson T. Price, Jr., is a Buffalo, NY activist, former educator, and one of the co-founders of our hometown celebration.
Buffalo’s Juneteenth Festival was founded in 1976 as a parallel event to America’s Bicentennial Independence celebration. It is well-known by many Buffalonians, especially within the Black community. So when many Americans ‘discovered’ Juneteenth in June 2020, I was wondering why they were so late to the party.
But I knew The Juneteenth Story was important to tell - and I’d soon learn how much I had yet to learn about the history of the celebration. As I immersed myself in research, it quickly became apparent that, beyond the already painful roots of this emancipation celebration, Juneteenth’s under-shared 155+ year journey directly paralleled more broadly known American history in so many fascinating ways.
I semi-nervously shared one of my early drafts with my family. It was an ambitious effort to meaningfully but age-appropriately summarize a 500 year trail of, at times, traumatic, and at times, triumphant history... in about 1300 words.
Days later I got a call from my grandfather, now 90, but still sharp as tack.
“Whoooooooooa, girl! That was SOMETHING! I didn’t expect to learn so much!”
I taught ‘Mr. Juneteenth’ something?! Wow. That was enough for me.
But this wasn’t about what I had done - it was about all that had been omitted from my (and earlier) generation's history curriculums. And in the current political environment where erasing key figures in our country’s history has become a heated debate, it has become even more important that I help contribute to building a body of accessible, historically accurate content to tell the truth about this element of our country’s history.
Enslavement, false imprisonment, Jim Crow of new and old, and persistent inequality are not joyous. The truth can hurt, but there is joy in having the freedom to share it.
There is joy in uncovering and sharing narratives about our ancestors so that they, too, get their rightful place in American history.
There is joy in knowing the self-sufficiency and tenacity of Black American people, despite the odds deliberately stacked against us.
There is joy in knowing that our history is still being written, and that each and every one of us have the power to affect the next chapter.
So while I look forward to continuing to create stories to bring kids and their families mirrors and windows of joy, I also welcome the challenge and importance of creating and sharing windows of truth.
Alliah L. Agostini will be making her debut as the author of two upcoming books: Non-fiction picture book The Juneteenth Story (May 2022, becker!&mayer! kids), recounting the history of the Juneteenth celebration, and the fiction picture book BIG TUNE (Winter 2023, FSG). A proud Buffalo native of Guyanese descent, she resides in New Jersey with her family. Learn more at alliahagostini.com
These photos capture some of the preparations for the very first Buffalo Juneteenth Festival. In addition to helping lead and plan, my grandfather Judson T. Price, Jr. also created the first Juneteenth Buffalo paraphernalia. Photos are used with permission from the collection of Judson T. Price, Jr.