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Despite the rich history of Juneteenth, the day’s true meaning and significance remain a mystery to so many people, including Black Americans. As the country celebrates Juneteenth this year, amid efforts to make the date an official holiday, a refresher of Saturday’s history may be worth it.
June 19, 1985 is the day news of freedom reached the last enslaved person in the Americas. This special date, known today as Juneteenth, is also called Emancipation day and is the equivalent to Independence day for Black folks with a history of slavery.
While the Emancipation Proclamation does exist, it failed to help free all slaves and only included enslaved people of the North. Many slaves of the South joined the Union army, and it wasn’t until news traveled to Galveston, Texas, at the end of the Civil War, that all slaves were freed.
To commemorate this joyous occasion, those who recognize Juneteenth celebrate every year on June 19 with food, dancing and other activities. One of the most popular ways to celebrate, however, remains reading up on the significance of the holiday.
Luckily, there are tons of adult books across several genres that shed light on the importance of Juneteenth. Take a look at five of our favorites below:
1. Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison, $7.58
Many consider this Ralph Ellison title required reading. It was published posthumously in 1999 as Ellison lost a lot of the original manuscript in a fire. The novel tells the story of how a boy is able to stray far enough from his history to become the man he is eventually. And it explores the question of whether it’s all worth it.
This four-book romance novella collection is one you’ll want to revisit time and time again. Each story in The Brightest Day follows a woman in a different era and explores how Juneteenth affects each woman. The two overarching themes you’ll notice? Love and strength.
Unfortunately, this book is currently out of print, but if you can find it at a local bookstore, it's a wonderful and enlightening read.
3. Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer, $21.24
Entering the non-fiction realm of Juneteenth stories, Envisioning Emancipation features stunning historical records and photography and even shows what the Emancipation Proclamation looks like on the bodies of newly freed slaves.
Though this book isn’t explicitly about Juneteenth, it explores the deeper nature of what gaining freedom meant to enslaved people.
4. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi, $10.14
Stamped from the Beginning is another title that isn’t directly related to Juneteenth but shows a wider, more contemporary picture of how the anti-Black thinking from the days of slavery is built into the framework of American society today.
This book won the National Book Award and is a New York Times and Washington Post bestseller.
5. On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed, $11.19
The New York Times best-selling On Juneteenth is an essential must-read story of the date’s massive importance to American history. This book, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author Annette Gordon-Reed, consists of well-informed essays that both entertain and enlighten as you go.
If you enjoyed this story, check out six books kids need to read to learn about and celebrate Juneteenth.
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