Deliberate attempts to obscure the ugliness of American history have hidden Juneteenth just out of “mainstream” culture’s frame since the holiday’s inception. Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, or Liberation Day, the Galveston-bred cause for celebration marks the freeing of the final enslaved persons on American soil.
Parts of the country, especially its birthplace of Texas, have honored Juneteenth with cookouts, parades and other community events for years, but with the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others whose names we haven’t yet heard forcing America to take a look at itself, there have been increased attempts to raise the profile of the occasion. As awareness spreads, however, concerns have been raised about sanitizing the legacy of this important day in Black American history.
While you could scour the internet for information, there’s no better resource on Juneteenth than printed text. The books listed below shed light on the history of Juneteenth through research and personal narratives, the racist systems erected in the aftermath of abolition and some of the art the holiday inspired.
On Juneteenth – Annete Gordon Reed
The Texas native behind 2009’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work The Hemingses of Monticello, turns her talents to sharing the facts behind the holiday.
Juneteenth Texas : Essays in African-American Folklore
Learn the origins of some of the cultural traditions and legends associated with this joyful occasion by exploring its Texan roots.
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America Book – Clint Smith
Smith uses his hometown of New Orleans to introduce examples of how white supremacy shapes our environments.
They Were Her Property -Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers
Rogers provides evidence for an argument that white women’s role in slavery was not as passive as previously portrayed.
Stony the Road – Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Louis Gates Jr., closely explores the century between abolition and the civil rights revolution.
Published on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, this book uses rarely seen images to illuminate what the road to freedom actually looked like.
We Were Eight Years In Power
Coates uses the touchpoint of reconstruction to offer sharp commentary on modern politics.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
This well-researched text connects the legacy of slavery to the over-policing that contributes to mass incarceration.
Black on Both Sides- A Racial History of Trans Identity – C. Riley Snorton
Nobody is free until we’re all free.
Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 – W. E. B. Du Bois
The first complete study focusing on Black Americans post-abolotion.
The Purpose of Power – Alicia Garza
The Black Live Matter co-founder advocates for grace among those trying to create social change.
Worldly Things – Michael Kleber-Diggs
This winner of the 2020 Max Ritvo Poetry Prize looks at how America has systemically failed the Black community while encouraging its readers to aspire for better.
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
This 2016 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel reimagines the real-life Underground Railroad that rescued many Americans from slavery.
A Little Devil In America – Hanif Abdurraqib
A reflection of the ways Black performance has been infused into our collective psyches.
The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
Curl up with the classic that inspired a generation of thinkers.
The Prophets – Robert Jones, Jr.
The author gives voice to the enslaved and the enslavers in his debut novel.
Four Hundred Souls by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain come together to carefully present the takes of ninety writers on five consecutive years of the 400 year time span between the fateful year of 1619 and 2019.
The 1619 Project
Learn about the foundation of the country where King’s dream was formed.