On Thursday, June 17, 2021, the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act” was signed into law, designating Juneteenth National Independence Day (June 19) as a federal public holiday.
Juneteenth (a combination of “June” and “nineteenth”) commemorates the day in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas finally learned that the Emancipation Proclamation had declared them free more than two years earlier. Annual celebrations of the occasion—parades, fireworks, cookouts, community gatherings, dances—spread beyond Texas as African Americans migrated across the country and traditions were passed on from family to family and community to community.
The books below, both fiction and nonfiction and for a a variety of ages, explore the Juneteenth holiday directly or take place during the joyous, yet tumultuous time period as slavery officially ended and freed Black people faced new forms of economic, legal, and societal barriers rooted in racism.
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Juneteenth: Traditions and Celebrations
by Lisa A. Crayton
Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Across the country, people observe the day with speeches, poetry readings, festivals, picnics, street fairs, and family reunions. It is a day for people to come together and continue working toward equality. Readers will discover how a shared holiday can have multiple traditions and be celebrated in all sorts of ways.
by Drew Nelson
June 19th, 1865, began as another hot day in Texas. Enslaved African Americans worked in fields, in barns, and in the homes of the white people who owned them. Then a message arrived. Freedom! Slavery had ended! The Civil War had actually ended in April. It took two months for word to reach Texas. Still the joy of that amazing day has never been forgotten. Every year, people all over the United States come together on June 19th to celebrate the end of slavery. Join in the celebration of Juneteenth, a day to remember and honor freedom for all people.
The Story of Juneteenth: An Interactive History Adventure
by Steven Otfinoski
The Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War have brought an official end to slavery, yet some Southern slave owners are refusing to comply. The road to freedom is still long and hard for many African Americans, but you’re not giving up. Will you: Overcome obstacles as you make your way north from Texas, looking to begin a new life of freedom? Seek out your family, from whom you were separated as a child, after emancipation? Fight back when you take work as an apprentice but find that you’re still treated as a slave? YOU CHOOSE offers multiple perspectives on history, supporting Common Core reading standards and providing readers a front-row seat to the past.
by Ann Rinaldi
Although born a slave to Luli’s family, Goose feels loved and respected by the family to which she is attached, but when Union soldiers arrive and tell her that slavery ended more than two years prior, Goose feels betrayed like never before and runs away to experience real freedom for the first time in her life.
A Sitting in St. James
by Rita Williams-Garcia
1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family’s objections, to sit for a portrait.
While Madame plots her last hurrah, stories that span generations—from the big house to out in the fields—of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and the tangled bonds of descendants and enslaved, come to light to reveal a true portrait of the Guilberts.
This astonishing novel from three-time National Book Award finalist Rita Williams-Garcia about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork—empathetic, brutal, and entirely human—and essential reading for both teens and adults grappling with the long history of American racism.
Daughters of Jubilation
by Kara Lee Corthron
In the Jim Crow South, white supremacy reigns and tensions are high. But Evalene Deschamps has other things to worry about. She has two little sisters to look after, an overworked single mother, and a longtime crush who is finally making a move.
On top of all that, Evvie’s magic abilities are growing stronger by the day. Her family calls it jubilation—a gift passed down from generations of black women since the time of slavery. And as Evvie’s talents waken, something dark comes loose and threatens to resurface…
And when the demons of Evvie’s past finally shake free, she must embrace her mighty lineage, and summon the power that lies within her.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.
Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.
by Annette Gordon-Reed
Combining personal anecdotes with poignant facts gleaned from the annals of American history, Gordon-Reed shows how, from the earliest presence of Black people in Texas to the day in Galveston on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in the state, African Americans played an integral role in the Texas story. Reworking the traditional “Alamo” framework, she powerfully demonstrates, among other things, that the slave- and race-based economy not only defined the fractious era of Texas independence but precipitated the Mexican-American War and, indeed, the Civil War itself.
by Ralph Ellison
From the author of bestselling Invisible Man—the classic novel of African-American experience—this long-awaited second novel tells an evocative tale of a prodigal of the twentieth century. Brilliantly crafted, moving, and wise, Juneteenth is the work of an American master.
“Tell me what happened while there’s still time,” demands the dying Senator Adam Sunraider to the itinerate preacher whom he calls Daddy Hickman. As a young man, Sunraider was Bliss, an orphan taken in by Hickman and raised to be a preacher like himself. Bliss’s history encompasses the joys of young southern boyhood; bucolic days as a filmmaker, lovemaking in a field in the Oklahoma sun. And behind it all lies a mystery: how did this chosen child become the man who would deny everything to achieve his goals?
The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood—where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him.
In Colson Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor: engineers and conductors operate a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight from one state to the next, encountering, like Gulliver, strange yet familiar iterations of her own world at each stop.
by Toni Morrison
Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement.