12 Books To Read Ahead of the First Official Juneteenth Holiday

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In celebration of Juneteenth 2021, we’ve rounded up a list of books that will help educate you about Juneteenth, slavery in the United States and Black history as a whole.

The Juneteenth holiday celebrates the emancipation of slaves in the United States, and it has become increasingly prominent in recent years as the country engages in long-overdue conversations about our history and the realities of systemic racism. Protests against racism and police brutality have followed the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black Americans, highlighting the need for additional police reform and an end to racial injustice around the nation.

This year’s celebration of Juneteenth also holds special significance. After passage in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, President Joe Biden officially signed a bill making Juneteenth an official federal holiday. Many states and private organizations were already recognizing the date in some way, and a growing number of companies have also made Juneteenth a paid holiday. Biden’s actions ensure this day will be celebrated for generations to come.

To learn more about the holiday and American history as it pertains to slavery and Black Americans, check out this list of some of our favorite educational reads. Each is available on Amazon, many in hardcover and paperback, and at other popular booksellers such as Bookshop.org.


1. On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

Learn the importance of Juneteenth in American history, with this book by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Texas native, Annette Gordon-Reed. In this telling, Gordon-Reed details the long road of Juneteenth achieving recognition and its origins.

On Juneteenth Courtesy of Amazon


2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

This classic 1963 novel by James Baldwin examines racial inequality and its ramifications. The book consists of two “letters,” which were written on the 100 year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, urging all Americans to fight against the legacy of racism.

The Fire Next Time Courtesy of Amazon


3. Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man by Emannuel Acho

Read More: Essential Memoirs by Black Authors

Former NFL player and sports analyst Emmanuel Acho offers an essential guide on systemic racism and how to address it through uncomfortable conversations.

Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man Courtesy of Amazon


4. Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

Great for kids, this wonderful book written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper shares a young girl’s celebration of Juneteenth, the Emancipation Proclamation and African-American history.

Juneteenth for Mazie Courtesy of Amazon


5. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

This book by Michelle Alexander has made a large impact on criminal justice reform since its initial release in 2010. Amazon notes that it’s been cited in judicial decisions and inspired the creation of the Marshall Project and the new $100 million Art for Justice Fund.

The New Jim Crow Courtesy of Amazon

6. Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 by W. E. B. Du Bois

Read More: Black History Books Everyone Should Read

Written by sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author and editor W.E.B. Du Bois, this classic history book details a shameful period in U.S. history. Du Bois provides a vital record of the challenges Black people faced during the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War.

Reconstruction in America 1860-1880 Courtesy of Amazon


7. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Recently adapted into an Amazon Prime Video series, the Underground Railroad by Colson White offers a magical realist reimagining of the escape routes used by enslaved Blacks traveling toward freedom in the North.

The Underground Railroad Courtesy of Amazon


8. Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison

This posthumously published novel by Ralph Ellison follows a strained father-son relationship in the segregated south during the early 20th century. Throughout it explores the “intellectual depths” of both men, evaluating their “values and purposes.”

Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison Courtesy of Amazon


9. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

This read from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi digs deep into the origins of racism in American society. Dr. Keni explores exactly how these racist ideas were created and spread, and how they remain deeply rooted in American society.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America Courtesy of Amazon


10. We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A snippet from Amazon describing this selection from Ta-Nehisi Coates, shares that this collection “reflects on race, Barack Obama’s presidency and its jarring aftermath —including the election of Donald Trump.”

We Were Eight Years in Power Courtesy of Amazon


11. Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America by W. Caleb McDaniel

This story follows the harrowing saga of an enslaved woman named Henrietta Wood and her fight for freedom, justice and reparations.

Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America Courtesy of Amazon


12. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist

Using a combination of details from escaped slaves, plantation records, newspapers, politicians and entrepreneurs, this book from Edward Baptist reveals how America’s economic supremacy was built on the backs of slaves.

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism Courtesy of Amazon


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