"What I love about Juneteenth is that even in that extended wait, we still find something to celebrate. Even though the story has never been tidy, the Black folks have had to march and fight for every inch of our freedom, our story is nonetheless one of progress."
--Michelle Obama, June 2020
Today the country celebrates for the third time the federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that the Union Army rode into Galveston, Texas and informed slaves of their emancipation. President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in January 1863, but a huge number of slaves were held in bondage in confederate states more than two years later. Enslaved persons in Texas were the last to gain their freedom. The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) describes as follows:
“Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by Executive decree. This day came to be known as ‘Juneteenth,’ by the newly freed people in Texas.”
See The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth | National Museum of African American History and Culture (si.edu). The Emancipation Proclamation freed more than 3.5 million enslaved persons in the confederate states.
Juneteenth celebrations first began in Texas in 1866, and became known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day. Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., explains the legacy of Juneteenth here: What is Juneteenth? | The Hutchins Center for African & African American Research (harvard.edu).
The National Museum of African American History and Culture curates a reading list of intriguing books on the history of Blacks in America. The most recent list includes:
“A Black Women’s History of the United States,” by Daina Rainey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross
“We Were Eight Years In Power,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy and the Rise of Jim Crow,” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“On Juneteenth,” by Annette Gordon-Reed
“The Wrath of Other Sons: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” by Isabel Wilkerson
A recently released book of interest is
"Say Anarcha," by J.C. Hallman (about the horrors suffered by an enslaved Black woman who was experimented on by a lauded white doctor)
There are also books for children and young adults on Blacks in American history, written by black authors. Young adult books include:
“Harriet Tubman: Conductor of the Underground Railroad,” by Ann Petry
“Brown Girl Dreaming,” by Jacqueline Woodson
A young adult historical fiction novel about the Reconstruction Era that we really like is
“Black Was The Ink,” by Michelle Coles (hear our podcast interview with Michelle here)
Children's books listed include:
“A is for All the Things You Are: A Joycul ABC Book” by Anna Forgerson Hindley, Illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo
“Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race,” by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli & Isabel Roxas
“Our Children Can Soar: A Celebration of Rosa, Barack, and the Pioneers of Change,” by Michelle Cook
“Freedom We Sing,” by Amyra Leon and Milly Mendoza
“Ruth and the Green Book,” by Calvin Alexander Ramey with Gwen Strauss, Illustrations by Floyd Cooper
Reading about Blacks in history, by black authors in particular, is especially important as book banning begins to unfold across the country, and some school districts seek to prevent the education of schoolchildren about the contributions, perspectives and insights of Blacks in America. Fortunately, the Department of Education is pushing back against that. In Forsyth County, Georgia, the Department investigated a complaint about book removals in the public schools and in a May 23, 2023, letter to the School District determined that the process may have created “a hostile environment * * * that the [School] District needed to ameliorate.”
Last month, a lawsuit was filed against the Escambia County School District in Florida by parents, authors and activists asking that censored books be returned to the school library. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that the act of banning books violate the First Amendment right to receive information, and the Equal Protection Clause because the books singled out are disproportionately by non-white and/or LGBTQ+ authors and address themes related to race or LGBTQ+ identity.
More and more, it is important that parents ensure that children understand the vast contributions of Blacks in history, the entrenched obstacles that Blacks have overcome to ensure democracy, and the continued commitment of Black people to advance our collective interests.
Enjoy your Juneteenth holiday!