Juneteenth isn’t a new holiday, but it is new to a lot of people – it was only declared a federal holiday last year. That newness means many will have questions about the holiday’s significance and how best to observe it. It also brings tough questions from children about the nation’s history of enslaving Black people.
As with most things in life, the best first step to better knowledge is to crack open a good book.
June 19 commemorates the date enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, became aware of the freeing of the enslaved in secessionist states by the Emancipation Proclamation, and has been celebrated by Black Americans since 1865. Juneteenth was mainly celebrated in Texas, but has taken on greater national significance following the racial reckonings in the summer of 2020 and debates over school discussions of critical race theory.
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Whether you’re a longtime celebrator or seeking to learn more, reading books about the history and legacy of Juneteenth can help commemorate its 157th anniversary.
“We have to love our country enough to confront its contended history, especially as we grapple with racial inequities and right now,” Wes Moore, a military veteran, CEO of Robin Hood, a nonprofit fighting poverty, and author of “Five Days ,” told USA TODAY in 2020. “This is a moment where it is critical to elevate Black voices and Black stories. Juneteenth is much more than a historic holiday: It’s a mandate to reflect on the progress that has been made but acknowledge how much more work we still have to do.”
For those looking for ways to do just that, these are some of the books experts recommend reading.
‘Stamped from the Beginning’ and other books for adults to learn more
Learning more about the ways systemic racism is rooted in the country’s history is the way to help heal the future, experts say.
“For adults, having a better understanding of slavery and its function in the American economy sets the stage for an appreciation of Juneteenth,” Dr. Beverly Tatum, psychologist and author of “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race,” told USA TODAY.
For a better understanding, start with these reads recommended by Tatum, Moore and best seller lists about Juneteenth, slavery and Black history:
- “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward E. Baptist
- “Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America” by W. Caleb McDaniel
- “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
- “On Juneteenth” by Annette Gordon-Reed
- “They Were Her Property” by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers
- “Stony the Road” by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
- “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead
- “My Vanishing Country” by Bakari Sellers
- “We Were Eight Years in Power” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- “Black Pain” by Terrie Williams
- “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin
- “Here I Stand” by Paul Robeson
- “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson
- “The Strange Career of Jim Crow” by C. Vann Woodward
- “Mirror to America” by John Hope Franklin
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‘Juneteenth for Mazie,’ more stories to spark conversation with kids, teens
For the younger crowd, picture and chapter books offer a historical look to spark conversations at home about America at large.
“We’re in the midst of an protest movement calling for change,” Moore said, referring at the time to the nationwide protests against George and police brutality against Black people following the death Floyd. “Not only does Juneteenth – a day that has never received the attention or prominence it deserves amid our holiday and history – feel different, but the conversations we are having, the collective progress we are all working toward, feels different as well.”
Some expert-recommended and best-selling book options for kids and teenagers include:
- “All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom” by Angela Johnson, illustrated by EB Lewis
- “Juneteenth for Mazie” written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper
- “The Story of Juneteenth: An Interactive History Adventure” by Steven Otfinoski
- “Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life” by Ashley Bryan
- “Juneteenth Jamboree” by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Yvonne Buchanan
- “Black History for Beginners” by Denise Dennis, illustrated by Susan Willmarth
- “Wagon Wheels” by Barbara Brenner, illustrated by Don Bolognese
- “Freedom’s a-Callin Me” by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Rod Brown
- “Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave” by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier
- “Escape From Slavery: Five Journeys to Freedom” by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Charles Lilly
- “Sulwe” by Lupita Nyong’o
- “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
Contributing: Barbara VanDenburgh, USA TODAY