10 books about the Black experience to read this Juneteenth
Learn more about the holiday and its impacts on society.
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The Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves, was signed on January 1, 1863. However, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that enslaved people in Texas got word of their freedom. According to National Museum of History and Culture (NMAAHC), Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is named after enslaved people in Texas who did not get their freedom until Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to share the news.
Freedom brought hope to many. Former enslaved people wanted to find their families, own property and businesses, and build community with each other. Many also chose to disrupt the government and got involved with politics and civil rights to ensure every American is treated equally.
If you are only just learning about the holiday, it’s a good idea to read up to further educate yourself of its importance. We’ve rounded up 10 great books about Juneteenth that showcase not only the history of Juneteenth but also events that occurred in its aftermath, as well as fictional books that detail the Black experience. Plus, there are books for all reading levels, making them great for the entire family.
1. Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper
You and your family will enjoy this book about Juneteenth that is written specifically for young readers. The story follows a young child named Mazie as she learns about her great-grandfather and the day Black people in Texas found out they were freed. Many parents love this book as it’s an easy way to start educating their younger children about the importance of the holiday.
2. On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed details the purpose of Juneteenth and how it has impacted the country in On Juneteenth. As a Texan, Gordon-Reed also weaves in her own family history to explain her connection to the holiday to further expand on why it’s celebrated and why it’s an important piece of American history.
3. Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer
Photographic historian Deborah Willis and historian of slavery Barbara Krauthamer have combined their efforts to uncover 150 photos that give a visual history of the antebellum south up until the Great Depression. Several of these images have never been seen before and it illustrates the often untold post-slavery Black experience, detailing the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation.
4. The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson
Despite Juneteenth marking the day slaves were officially freed, there’s still a lot of work to be done for the fight for equality. Malcom X, an African-American Muslim minister and leader in the American Black nationalist movement, was an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. You can learn more about Malcolm X and his years when he was imprisoned in The Awakening of Malcolm X. Told from the perspective of his daughter Ilyasah Shabazz in collaboration with award-winning author Tiffany D. Jackson, you’ll get an intimate view on what fed her father’s determination for freedom.
5. A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib
Part poetry, part essay, author Hanif Abdurraqib tackles the history of Black entertainers in America. From Josephine Baker to Aretha Franklin, Abdurraqib highlights the power of visual arts in Black America while showing the importance of every one of these performances—big or small—and their impact on Black culture and the United States.
6. Jarvais Po: (The Secret Adventures of a Potato) by Abesi N. Manyando
This children’s book will help parents, as well as educators, ease into talking about heavy topics such as bullying, race, and class with food as a backdrop. Abesi N. Manyando uses vegetables, like Jarvais “Po” Potato and Cee Celery, to illustrate difficult situations and showcase how racism impacts marginalized people.
7. Lifting as We Climb: Black Women's Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne
After the 13th Amendment, which formally abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, was passed, most Black people wanted the right to vote. While Black men were able to vote legally first with the 14th Amendment, many Black women still experienced racism and sexism from white female suffragette allies who were fighting for the rights of women to vote. As shown in Lifting as We Climb, many Black women were discouraged to vote and oftentimes left out of the conversation. Throughout this powerful book, Evette Dionne draws a connection from abolition to contemporary young activists, filling in the gaps of the women’s suffrage movement.
8. Grieving While Black: An Antiracist Take on Oppression and Sorrow by Breeshia Wade
Despite its title, this is not a self-help book. Instead, it's a critical analysis of the impact of Black trauma. Author Breeshia Wade uses a Buddhist-influenced approach, as well as her background as a caretaker, to explain how microaggressions and injustices have evolved over time. Throughout the book, Wade encourages self-care and putting things that matter the most first.
9. Black Sci-Fi Short Stories (Gothic Fantasy) by Tia Ross and Dr. Sandra M. Grayson
It’s time to get introduced to some classic Black sci-fi short stories by Walidah Imarisha, Pauline Hopkins, W.E.B. Dubois, and more. These tales incorporate sci-fi, dystopian, and oftentimes futuristic tales that intersect identity, technology, space, and time. While fictional, these are still great reads on the Black experience with a mix between century-old classics and more modern tales.
10. The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright
Author Richard Wright submitted The Man Who Lived Underground to publishers almost 70 years ago and it was initially rejected. Now, after his death, his novel is available and it certainly stands the test of time. The story follows a Black laborer who is forced to confess to a crime he did not do and follows his quest for any semblance of freedom.
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