There won’t be a Now I Know in your inbox on Monday; I’m taking it off because Monday is Juneteeth, the newest federal holiday in the United States. If you’re not familiar with the day or its history, literary critic and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. has a great primer on it at PBS, here. You should read it — today’s email isn’t a history lesson. But I do want to talk about Juneteenth in another context: knowledge gaps.
Now I Know, almost by definition, is about the gaps in my knowledge: it’s a collection of facts and stories that I hadn’t previously learned but, as the title states, now I know. I didn’t know about Juneteenth prior to, say, 2016, and only likely because it was the 150th anniversary of the celebration. Around the same time, I learned about the Tulsa Race Massacre — and almost wrote a newsletter about it. But it’s a difficult story to recount, particularly for me, an amateur and generalist who tries to limit himself to 750 or 1,000 words. It remained on my ever-growing to-do list but felt so daunting, I never even started writing about it. And then, in 2019, HBO came out with a TV series based on the graphic novel The Watchmen which makes a lot of references to the massacre, so I all but gave up on ever writing about it. My knowledge gap hadn’t shrunk, but yours — if you’ve watch the show (I haven’t yet, it’s also on my to-do list) — may have. And while Now I Know is about things I’ve learned, I don’t like to share stories that all of you may already know. The emergence of Juneteenth in the public eye, followed by the 100th anniversary of the massacre in 2021, made it impossible for me to write about.
But the massacre — and Juneteenth — still feel like untold or under-told stories. The top two long reads today go deeper into both, and address the history and impact better than I ever could. Sometimes, I guess, Now I Know shouldn’t be me writing what I’ve learned, but sharing the writings of people who know a lot more than I do. I think in both of these cases, that’s the right way to go.
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I do want to share one thing about Juneteenth that I discovered during my very quick dive into the history of the date. It’s rather spectacular just how invisible the holiday was in the public eye for its first century. I have a subscription to Newspapers.com and use it often for Now I Know purposes, usually to find old stories that you can’t find through a Google search. In this case, though, I used the tool to look at the data. In 1966 — the 100-year anniversary of the first Juneteenth celebration — there were only six (6!) articles that mentioned the holiday, at least by that name. And the story that goes into detail the most about it? It’s actually a letter to the editor, and you can read it here.
The Now I Know Week In Review
Monday: The Digital Version of Throwing Out the Baby with the Bathwater?: I really can’t believe this happens.
Tuesday: The Norwegian With The Magical Beer Tap?: In fairness to whomever messed this up, I probably would have, too — I am not a very handy person. Also, yes, I had two question titles in a row, and no, that wasn’t intentional. I don’t really like question titles so I’m kind of annoyed at myself over this.
Wednesday: When Every Day is a Bad Hair Day: It’s a genetic condition, not a conditioner condition.
Thursday: The Language Designed to Protect the Nuts: Many of you wrote in to tell me I said “eastern” when I meant “western” and vice versa. But kudos to reader Paul E. for calling it a “cardinal” error — I appreciate the dad joke! Oh, and I fixed the mistake on the archived version of the story.
And some other things you should check out:
Some long reads for the weekend:
1) “The Story We’ve Been Told About Juneteenth Is Wrong” (Texas Monthly, 11 minutes, June 2023). The subhead: “The real history is much messier—and more inspiring.”
2) “What the Tulsa Race Massacre Destroyed” (New York Times, 11 minutes, May 2021). An interactive look at the destruction from one of America’s darkest days.
3) “The Mystery of the Disappearing van Gogh” (New York Times, May 2023). The subhead: “After a painting by the Dutch artist sold at auction, a movie producer claimed to be the owner. It later vanished from sight, with a trail leading to Caribbean tax havens and a jailed Chinese billionaire.”
Have a great weekend! I’ll be back on Tuesday.