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Washington/Canadian-Media: The posthumous work of Ralph Ellison's unfinished a long time coming second novel Juneteenth (1999) not published until after his death in 1994 was compiled from Ellison’s thousands of manuscript drafts and notes that are now preserved for researchers in the Ralph Ellison Papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress (LoC) by Ellison’s literary executor, John F. Callahan, with the active support of Ellison’s widow, Fanny McConnell Ellison, LoC reports said.
Draft manuscript page, Ellison’s “Juneteenth.” Image credit: Ralph Ellison Papers, Manuscript Division. Image credit: LoC
Rooted in folklore fieldworker with the U.S. Works Progress Administration Federal Writers Project in the 1930s encouraged towards a literary life from Langston Hughes, the novel is based on his many essays, his love of jazz and blues, his observations of the Black family and the Black church, the civil rights' awareness of the 1950s and 1960s, and his correspondence with close colleagues like Albert Murray.
Following the great success of his first novel, Invisible Man (1952), Ellison worked on his second novel for decades, and lost some of his manuscript in a disastrous 1967 fire and had to reconstitute passages from memory and published excerpts of the work in progress in literary journals, teasing at the longer work still to come.
Ellison’s second novel, American and national in its character, reflects about the rifts in American society, the strife of racial prejudice and discrimination, the ongoing struggle to assert that Black lives matter, in civil status and before God, about the deep pervasiveness and strength of African American culture and experience.
One of the novel’s main characters, Bliss, a boy of indeterminate race who looks white and later in life becomes a member of Congress, is raised and schooled in revivalism by the other major protagonist of the novel, Reverend “Daddy” Alonzo Hickman, Ellison examines not only the pain and the identity crises and failed promise of emancipation, but also freedom’s restorative and transformative powers.
Like Ellison’s novel, the idea of Juneteenth as a national holiday has been a long time coming. It marks the moment that the news of the end of slavery was proclaimed in Texas, on June 19, 1865 and has long been celebrated in Texas, where it has been an official state holiday since 1980, a day for African American rejoicing, family reunion, picnics, and storytelling.
Supported by the White House, Juneteenth was declared an official federal holiday with on June 17, 2021 for the whole nation and is a milestone in the long history of emancipation.
Image: Page from working draft, Ellison’s “Juneteenth.” Manuscript Division. Image credit: LoC