If You Don’t Know, Now You Know

Richard Thomas | Published: June 18, 2024
By L. Marie Wood Juneteenth.       America’s second Independence Day. Freedom Day. A day that, until it became a federal holiday, I knew virtually nothing about.  I didn’t grow up learning about Juneteenth.  I’d heard it mentioned once, maybe twice throughout my life, but I, like many people, including other African Americans across the country, learned…

By L. Marie Wood


America’s second Independence Day.

Freedom Day.

A day that, until it became a federal holiday, I knew virtually nothing about. 

I didn’t grow up learning about Juneteenth. 

I’d heard it mentioned once, maybe twice throughout my life, but I, like many people, including other African Americans across the country, learned about what really happened in Texas in 2021, when June 19th became a federal holiday. This, even as I sang the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, in elementary school and learned about a prominent African American figure every day of Black History Month. 

I was stunned. And then I was saddened. It didn’t take long for other emotions to reveal themselves.

It took over two years for slaves in Texas, by all accounts upwards of 250,000 people, to find out that they had, in fact, been emancipated in 1863. State-by-state battles fought by Union soldiers, hundreds of thousands of which were free African Americans taking up the fight, was the only means of enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation. They moved through the South to make good on the decree, with slaveowners desperately fighting against them to keep their way of life. They uprooted themselves and fled, their slaves in tow, to states that had not yet been overtaken. They hid the news of the Emancipation Proclamation from their slaves to keep them ignorant, and when all else failed, killed slaves who tried to exercise their freedom all in an effort to remain in control, to keep what they had. By June of 1865, Texas was the last bastion; there was nowhere left to run. The union defeated the last of the confederate holdouts in the beginning of the month and on June 19th, Major General Gordan Granger issued General Order #3 which made clear that slaves were free. And many of them were—it’s said that there were celebrations in the street as slaves breathed air as free people for the first time. But not all of them. Some were never released. Violence toward former slaves was still practiced until the 13thAmendment was ratified later that year on December 6th.

All of this really happened and most of America knew nothing about it, had no connection to date, nor the context.

Of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers, I knew a great deal. Medgar Evers, Emmett Till, and the freedom fighters as well, but not this. Not at all. 

That still bothers me to this day.

My family was not unlike many in northern cities, ones who had been denied basic human rights during segregation and latched on to progress once it was attainable to plot a new path. I moved forward on that path, doing as my mother hoped I would, as her mother before her had in kind. I went to school, earned degrees, got the job, made a better way. I moved forward with knowledge of a history that included lynchings and Jim Crow, blackface, and inherent bias. But not this. Never this.

People were denied freedom, denied passage, denied life.

People who looked like me.

It is horrifying.

It is horror.

Indeed, the reality of Juneteenth—the disdain for human life, the deliberate muting of the truth—is the embodiment of Black Horror as we know it today in the genre space.

And it terrified me.

I wrote the night I learned about Juneteenth, my soul troubled. This is what came forth, a jumble of histories and futures pressed together and viewed under a lens like a kaleidoscope:

They came in the dark.

Like a mob, they gathered together in motion, moving as one, advancing, coming, coming.

The streetlamp illuminated the face of a neighbor who drank his beer on his front steps and exchanged pleasantries the other day.

A wayward flashlight beam revealed the face of the cashier at the supermarket around the corner.

With guns and bats and chains and knives they came, sure and steady, enjoying the press, the terror, the fear.

Silence from one direction, loud music from the other, rhythmic bass thumping and electric guitars squealing cutting through the silence, warring with each other outside in the dark…deep down beneath the skin. 

Voices rising, wrestling for control, out of sync in the din but the message so very clear.


The cross was hammered home in the soft grass, on the sterile wall, on the casket lid.


The door shook on its hinges, sound erupting in the dead of night.


The blood, deafening as it rushed to the head, pressing, beating, pleading.


White looks gray against an overcast sky.


Branches snap beneath weight they were never meant to hold.


Cellphones flash, snapping pictures that will shape history but be too late for security. 

Is the lamb’s blood painted above the door?

Are the papers in order?


Years later, as we approach Juneteenth again and remember what it means to not only the African American community, but Americans as a whole, I look upon this piece with fresh eyes. I feel less fear than I did when I wrote it. The presence coming forth in the dark has transcended the base terror that permeated my thoughts when I thought of the mass silencing the nation embarked upon less than 200 years ago. Instead, I feel hopeful, and while the reason for this shift is not immediately clear, it feels organic in the way that progress often is. 

Put plainly, the cat is out of the bag. 

The winner’s story is always the one that is retold, that is covered in the history books, that is remembered. That fact is illustrated plainly in discussions around war, religion, and politics. That this story is often reductive, exclusionary, and biased goes without saying. When the hated is down and the hater is the one left standing, they can spin the tale any way they want to. Recall what we know about Edgar Allan Poe, his supposed madness and frequent inebriation, and then consider that his nemesis, Rufus Griswold, penned his biography, cementing an image of the preeminent author that proves indelible, even as we learn that much of the details were inflammatory and false.

Information is a powerful tool. So is timing. Youth provides the perfect inexorable muck for misinformation and fake news to plant roots.

But the truth about what happened in Texas has finally been made public and is widely known. The fact that a quarter of a million people were unable to enjoy their freedom, were denied the human rights that much of the country possessed, were forced to live and die under the fallacy that they were still chattel, still considered less than human, still enslaved has been exposed, as has the effort to devalue African American history. This enlightenment is encouraging research and study that goes beyond what we were taught in history class. Scholars are uncovering details about what happened in times past by consulting varied sources to form a more comprehensive picture. This is important work, and we wouldn’t be doing it if the veil hadn’t been removed from our eyes.

For that reason alone, I will celebrate Juneteenth. I will rejoice over the moment in time in our history when every slave in the United States knew they were free. I will be grateful for my newfound understanding of information flow and what that means to me as an African American…as an American. And I will be hopeful for a future where mutual respect and understanding binds the human race.

L. Marie Wood is a two-time Bookfest Award winner, a two-time Bram Stoker Award® Finalist, a Golden Stake Award-winning author, and MICO Award-winning screenwriter, as well as a Rhysling nominated poet, an accomplished essayist, and a burgeoning playwright. She creates immersive worlds that defy genre as they intersect horror, romance, mystery, thriller, sci-fi, and fantasy elements to weave harrowing tapestries of speculative fiction. Wood is the Vice President of the Horror Writers Association, the founder of the Speculative Fiction Academy, an English and Creative Writing professor, as well as a horror scholar. Learn more at www.lmariewood.com.