Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19th, in remembrance of the day that all enslaved people in America were ensured freedom. Federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865, a full two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, to take control of the state. Today it honors the end of slavery, and on June 17th, 2021 it became an official federal holiday. Below are books for both children and adults to learn more about the longest-running African American holiday.
On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed is a nonfiction book that gives a historian’s view of the holiday from 1865 until the bill signed in 2021 that made it a federal holiday in 2021. Gordon-Reed is a Harvard professor and Pulitzer Prize winner, and this book utilizes American history, family chronicles as well as several memoirs in an honest and important way.
Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019 by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain provides an even lengthier history than On Juneteenth, starting in 1916 when the first ship brought African people to what is now Virginia. The book covers the broader experience and history of African Americans, with contributions from 90 different writers. Juneteenth is not the main focus of the book, however, it provides incredible context and background to learn about the holiday.
Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison is a fiction novel, which tells the story of racist Senator Adam “Bliss” Sunraider who was shot and nearly killed by a group of radicals. While on his death bed, he asks a reverend and African Americans to be by his side. Their conversations about secrets, memories, and childhood reveal an overarching theme of community.
The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in The United States by Alliah L. Agostini, Illustrated by Sawyer Cloud is a children’s picture book that provides an introduction to the history and how the holiday evolved. The story explains events leading up to Juneteenth, including why it took so long for the news of the end of slavery to reach Texas. It also tells how the holiday and other traditions spread as Black Texans moved to other parts of the country.
All Different Now: Juneteenth, The First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson and E.B. Lewis, Illustrator tells the story of the first Juneteenth through the eyes of a little girl. It is a beautiful picture book that provides a story as well as a timeline of important dates and a glossary of relevant terms.