Happy Freedom Day: Reads for “Juneteenth” 2021

Did you know that there is more than one Independence Day celebrated in the US?

Juneteenth-also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day– is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it is now celebrated annually on June 19 throughout the United States, with increasing official recognition. It is commemorated on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865, announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas. Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in the majority of the 50 U.S. states.

In recent times the significance of the holiday has been amplified by the renewed fight against racial injustice in America. Over the course of more than 2 centuries, slavery left a deep legacy of inequality and racism, one that is sadly visible even today 155 years after emancipation.

To commemorate Juneteenth, here are some books and ebooks on the history of slavery and emancipation that will allow us to reflect on these shameful chapters in American history and acknowledge that much more needs to be done to achieve racial justice and equality in American society even today.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston & Alice Walker 

Hurston brilliantly illuminates the horror and injustices of slavery as she tells the true story of one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade—abducted from Africa on the last “Black Cargo” ship to arrive in the United States.

The Crooked Path To Abolition : Abraham Lincoln And The Antislavery Constitution by James Oaks

Through the unforeseen challenges of the Civil War crisis, Lincoln and the Republican party adhered to a clear antislavery strategy founded on the Constitution itself. All understood the limits to federal power in the slave states, and the need for state action to abolish slavery finally. But Lincoln and the Republicans claimed strong constitutional tools for federal action against slavery, and they used those tools consistently to undermine slavery, prevent its expansion, and pressure the slave states into abolition. This antislavery Constitution guided Lincoln and his allies as they navigated the sectional crisis and the Civil War. When the states finally ratified the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, it was a confirmation of a long-held vision.

Educated For Freedom : The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys Who Grew Up To Change A Nation by Anna Mae Duane

The powerful story of James McCune Smith and Henry Highland Garnet, two black children who came of age and into freedom as their country struggled to grow from a slave nation into a free country. The story of their lives, their work, and their friendship testifies to the imagination and activism of the free black community that shaped the national journey toward freedom.

Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner

Foner overturns numerous assumptions growing out of the traditional understanding of the period, which is based almost exclusively on white sources and shaped by (often unconscious) racism. Drawing on a wide range of long-neglected documents, he places a new emphasis on the centrality of the black experience to an understanding of the era. We see African Americans as active agents in overthrowing slavery, in helping win the Civil War, and–even more actively–in shaping Reconstruction and creating a legacy long obscured and misunderstood.

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

Baptist reveals that slavery and its expansion were central to the evolution and modernization of our nation in the 18th and 19th centuries, catapulting the US into a modern, industrial and capitalist economy. Through forced migration, quotas, and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from their slaves making competition with American cotton fields near impossible. Financial innovations and banks, meanwhile, helped feed credit to the cotton plantations, spurring on economic expansion and confirming for enslavers and their political leaders that their livelihood, and the American economy, depended on cotton.

Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America by Catherine Kerrison

The remarkable untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s three daughters—two white and free, one black and enslaved—and the divergent paths they forged in a newly independent America.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth

This remarkable narrative, first published in 1850, offers a rare glimpse into the little-documented world of Northern slavery. Truth recounts her life as a slave in rural New York, her separation from her family, her religious conversion, and her life as a traveling preacher during the 1840s. She also describes her work as a social reformer, counselor of former slaves, and sponsor of a black migration to the West.

New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America by Wendy Warren

While earlier histories of slavery largely confine themselves to the South, Warren’s exploration links the growth of the northern colonies to the slave trade and examines the complicity of New England’s leading families, demonstrating how the region’s economy derived its vitality from the slave trading ships coursing through its ports.

The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation by David Brion Davis

Davis offers original and penetrating insights into what slavery and emancipation meant to Americans. He vividly portrays the dehumanizing impact of slavery, as well as the generally unrecognized importance of freed slaves to abolition. Most of all, Davis presents the age of emancipation as a model for reform and as probably the greatest landmark of willed moral progress in human history.

Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation by Ira Berlin & Marc Favreau

Using excerpts from the thousands of interviews conducted with ex-slaves in the 1930s by researchers working with the Federal Writer’s Project, this astonishing collection makes available in print the only known recordings of people who actually experienced slavery–recordings that had gathered dust in the Library of Congress until they were rendered audible for the first time specifically for this collection.

River of Blood : American Slavery From The People Who Lived It : Interviews & Photographs of Formerly Enslaved African Americans 

This book highlights the interviews known as the Slave Narratives–condensing tens of thousands of pages into short excerpts from about 100 former slaves and pairs their accounts with their photographs, taken by the workers sent to record their stories.

It is an eye-opening account that details what it was like to be a slave–from everyday life to the overwhelming fear they harbored for their lives and for the lives of their family and loved ones. Their stories are clear and stirring.

A Slave No More:Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation by David W. Blight

The newly discovered slave narratives of John Washington and Wallace Turnage—and their harrowing and empowering journey to emancipation.

Slavery By Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War Two by Douglas A. Blackmon

 In this ‘precise and eloquent work’ Blackmon brings to light one of the most shameful chapters in American history – an ‘Age of Neoslavery’ that thrived in the aftermath of the Civil War through the dawn of World War II. Using a vast record of original documents and personal narratives, Blackmon unearths the lost stories of slaves and their descendants who journeyed into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation and then back into the shadow of involuntary servitude thereafter. 

Stamped From the Beginning : The Definitive History Of Racist Ideas In America by Ibram X. Kendi

This heavily researched yet easily readable volume explores the roots and the effects of racism in America. Kendi offers this history through chronologically arranged sections based on the lives of five figures from American history: socially and politically influential Puritan minister Cotton Mather; President Thomas Jefferson; prominent abolitionist and social reformer William Lloyd Garrison; civil rights activist and author W. E. B. Du Bois; and political activist and writer Angela Davis.

Stories Of Slavery In New Jersey by Rick Geffken

Author Geffken reveals stories from New Jersey’s dark history of slavery.

Dutch and English settlers brought the first enslaved people to New Jersey in the seventeenth century. By the time of the Revolutionary War, slavery was an established practice on labor-intensive farms throughout what became known as the Garden State. The progenitor of the influential Morris family, Lewis Morris, brought Barbadian slaves to toil on his estate of Tinton Manor in Monmouth County. “Colonel Tye,” an escaped slave from Shrewsbury, joined the British “Ethiopian Regiment” during the Revolutionary War and led raids throughout the towns and villages near his former home. Charles Reeves and Hannah Van Clief married soon after their emancipation in 1850 and became prominent citizens of Lincroft, as did their next four generations. 

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

The unforgettable saga of one enslaved woman’s fight for justice—and reparations. Born into slavery, Henrietta Wood was taken to Cincinnati and legally freed in 1848. In 1853, a Kentucky deputy sheriff named Zebulon Ward colluded with Wood’s employer, abducted her, and sold her back into bondage. She remained enslaved throughout the Civil War, giving birth to a son in Mississippi and never forgetting who had put her in this position. By 1869, Wood had obtained her freedom for a second time and returned to Cincinnati, where she sued Ward for damages in 1870. Astonishingly, after eight years of litigation, Wood won her case: in 1878, a Federal jury awarded her $2,500. 

The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War by Andrew Delbanco

The devastating story of how fugitive slaves drove the nation to the Civil War. These slaves exposed the contradiction between the myth that slavery was a benign institution and the reality that a nation based on the principle of human equality was in fact a prison-house in which millions of Americans had no rights at all. By awakening northerners to the true nature of slavery, and by enraging southerners who demanded the return of their human “property,” fugitive slaves forced the nation to confront the truth about itself.

For audiovisual enlightenment on the topic, you can stream these on Kanopy, and Hoopla has these great television documentaries on slavery, the Civil War and history of the African Americans.

-Archana, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *