Student Perspective: Bryleigh Jackson on American History and Juneteenth

June 9, 2021

left frame: Bryleigh Jackson / right frame: horizontal color stripes representing juneteenth - red, black, green

On June 19, Virginians will once again celebrate Juneteenth as an official state holiday. Juneteenth, a historical milestone long recognized by African Americans, commemorates the end of slavery. Bryleigh Jackson, a VCU history major, provides her insight about the recognition of Juneteenth as a state holiday as well as her affinity for learning all the nuances of American History.

What inspired you to become a history major?

A myriad of things inspired me to become a History major. Ever since I was a child, history has always had a familiar face to me. To me, everything matters, no matter how long ago it may have occurred. Throughout primary school, social studies was my strongest subject and one that I took the utmost interest in. I would spend hours browsing Wikipedia, watching documentaries, and going to history museums as often as I could all throughout high school. My love for history seeps into my daily life, with my love for antiques, hairstyles I have worn, my love for old music, movies, TV shows, and books.

Additionally, the cultivation of historiography from multiple perspectives is what drew me into remaining a History major. History is constantly flowing and is never stagnant- it requires constant analyzing, questioning, and assessing. History is nuanced. History in its rawest and truest form declines a rosy retrospection of viewing the past, but demands transparency, no matter how alluring or disturbing it may be. It was not until I got to VCU that I received a candid historiographical learning experience, one that was not tampered by historical revisionism (particularly, the Lost Cause-style revisionism), but throughout primary school, this was not the case. Being taught history from a white supremacist perspective is simply racist, inaccurate, and counter-active. My desire is to use my History degree to become a History educator that emphasizes a genuine teaching of American History, one that encompasses and analyzes the reality of what occurred here over the course of four hundred years and for my future students to interpret the teachings how they will, this is at the root of historiography. History is just so rich!

As you reflect on the history classes that you have taken so far, which classes have had the most impact on determining your future goals?

I would have to say American History from 1900-1945 with Professor Thurber, VA History since 1865 with Professor Daugherity and Americans from Africa Since 1865 with Professor Dickinson are the classes that have genuinely had the most impact on my decision to continue my studies within the historical realm. I have taken many history courses about various cultures and time periods, but American history is often where I find myself most intrigued, probably because it is incredibly relatable. These three professors did an amazing job of breaking down the material and allowing for an open discussion that made the material much more interesting. There are so many layers to history throughout the United States that I was completely unaware of. Ultimately, I have found that the majority of my history courses deepened my love for history and thus inspired me to continue my studies within the field.

Virginia recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday. How is that recognition significant to you?

This is an interesting question. Juneteenth has been a holiday important to us as Black Americans for the past 150 years, one that celebrates a pivotal, sacred moment in American history. It is hard to verbalize just how emotional this day is, because it is one of indescribable importance to Black Americans nationwide. The enactment of Juneteenth as a state-wide holiday in 2020, to me, was a beautiful gesture, but one that was a bit late. Many people, including other Black people, did not even know what Juneteenth was because it was never taught to us in school or emphasized by the media, most of us learned about Juneteenth from our families or on our own accord. While I feel as though this should have been done sooner, I am still happy that there is now a sense of recognition and reverence for the sacrifices of formerly enslaved Black people, and perhaps now, more people will take the time to educate themselves on the importance of this holiday. Virginia is attempting to move in the right direction, and I think this recognition is a step towards VA rectifying many of the transgressions the state has historically committed against Black residents here. Ultimately, I am pleased to see the progression and hope that on this day, people will take the time to educate themselves on Black progress.