RALIANCE Reading: 8 Books to Read in Honor of Juneteenth

Black and white photo of Black Americans standing together at a celebration.

Photo Credit: Austin History Center

Juneteenth only became a federal holiday in 2021, yet it has been honored by Black communities for many years. This holiday, commemorating when Union soldiers freed slaves that had yet to be freed in Texas despite the Emancipation Proclamation two years prior, is a time for us all to reflect on where our country has been, celebrate how far we’ve come, and determine a future that ensures equity for all. The National Museum of African American History & Culture details that, “Juneteenth celebrates African American resilience and achievement while aiding in the preservation of those historical narratives that promoted racial and personal advancement since Freedom Day.”

While Juneteenth was yesterday, we should make it our mission to maintain the spirit of the holiday throughout the year. One way we can commemorate Juneteenth is by reading books that educate us about the nuances and dimensions of the Black American experience, past and present. Below are our recommendations.

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones

Expanding on the New York Times’ lead essay in their Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project (written by Nikole Hannah-Jones) with 18 essays and 36 poems and works of fiction, this book aims to explore how the legacy of chattel slavery is still felt within all areas of American culture and life.

“Hannah-Jones…and an impressive cast of historians, journalists, poets, novelists, and cultural critics deliver a sweeping study of the ‘unparalleled impact’ of African slavery on American society….A bracing and vital reconsideration of American history.”-Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

*You can also view the miniseries, The 1619 Project.

*Purchase book here.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkerson examines how human beings have in the past and present created caste systems, or human rankings, and how this hierarchy manifests itself in our culture, politics, and way of life. By looking through the lens of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson encourages the reader to think critically about the way our systems are designed and how we can emerge to find our common humanity.

“Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” is a superbly written and impeccably researched study of a phenomenon that is rarely discussed in American culture.

“However, its most important element is timeliness. Brave, clear and shatteringly honest in both approach and delivery, this book delves deep into the powerful caste system that has shaped the United States since the early 1600s, a system so strong, it goes above and beyond class and race to become the inescapable pillar of our social structure.”-Datebook

*You can also view the film adaptation, Origin, directed by Ava DuVernay.

*Purchase book here.

Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer

Photography historian Deborah Willis and American slavery historian Barbara Krauthamer joined forces to examine photos of Black men and women taken between the 1850s-1930s. Viewing these photos in context prompts the reader to help them better understand the trajectory of the emancipation process.

“Groundbreaking…Envisioning Emancipation recounts a dynamic history of black self-possession and self-determination, one that challenges the abiding myth of the crusade against slavery and segregation: that of passive black victims who obtained freedom mostly through the benevolence and generosity of their white saviors.”-New York Times’ Lens blog

*Purchase book here.


Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain

Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, this book is comprised of pieces from 90 writers who each discuss a different five year period over the 400 years from the first slaves taken to America to the time of this book’s publication (2019).

“The word “community” in the subtitle is key to this book’s accomplishment. Historians do not write history; they curate it. And Four Hundred Souls is all the richer for its plurality of perspectives. Its ethos chimes with JB Russwurm, a pioneering black journalist who, in a 1827 editorial for Freedom’s Journal, argued: “Too long have others spoken for us [such that] our vices and our degradation are ever arrayed against us, but our virtues are passed by unnoticed.”-The Guardian

*Purchase book here.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

In her memoir, Austin Channing Brown writes about her experiences as a Black, middle-class woman in the modern day. Her book provides, “an illuminating look at how white, middle-class, Evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility, inviting the reader to confront apathy, recognize God’s ongoing work in the world, and discover how blackness—if we let it—can save us all.” She has also written an adaptation of her book for young readers.

“Explaining that change needs to come from acknowledgement of systemic inequalities, Brown calls on readers to live their professed ideals rather than simply state them…Brown’s authoritative tone and moving message make this a must-read for those interested in racial justice within the Christian community.”-Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Review)

*Purchase book here.

O Freedom!: Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations by William H. Wiggins Jr.

Originally published in 1987, scholar and Texas native William H. Wiggins Jr. traces the history of Black freedom celebrations. In the late 70’s, Wiggins drove across the country to trace the history of how Black folks celebrated emancipation from, “early slave festivals to twentieth-century offshoots like Black History Month and Martin Luther King Day.”

“…a valuable contribution to Afro-American history…describes the author’s thousands of miles of travel…in order to understand the emancipation celebrations and to capture the different flavors of celebrations from Texas to Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Georgia. The account of his travels is lively, inviting, scholarly, and earthy. His research and writing point to an obvious conclusion: emancipation celebrations are alive and well.”-North Carolina Historical Review

*Purchase book here.

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

Released as this nation was on the verge of establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday, Annette Gordon-Reed’s book uses American history and her own personal anecdotes to examine the journey the holiday has taken from the liberation of slaves in Texas to today.

“As Juneteenth morphs from a primarily Texan celebration of African American freedom to a proposed national holiday, Gordon-Reed urges Texans and all Americans to reflect critically on this tangled history. A remarkable meditation on the history and folk mythology of Texas from an African American perspective.”-Booklist (Starred Review)

*Purchase book here.

Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle by Danté Stewart

Danté Stewart’s memoir explores his journey as a rising church leader, and how the legacy of white supremacy impacted his experiences with his faith community and transformed his spiritual journey.

“Drawing on a churchly tradition of vigorous sermonizing, Stewart examines the fruits of that radicalization—e.g., the phenomenon of Black rage, which, though “tricky in America,” is a perfectly appropriate response to injustice. While justly enraged himself, he insists on Black humanity and the necessity of embracing not just the struggle and the anger associated with it, but also the very human impulse to love, embrace, and even forgive…An inspired and inspiring treatise that deftly blends religious faith with political activism.”-Kirkus Reviews

*Purchase book here.

Interested in any of these books? Consider supporting Black-owned bookstores in your state Black-owned online only vendors. Explore this list to find and support these businesses.

There is always more to learn about our history and, the more we learn about, the better place we can come from to shape a better future. We hope to see all of you use Juneteenth as a starting point to learn and use that knowledge to ignite your passion for equity going forward.

RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.


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