“Happy Freedom Day”: Reads for Juneteenth 2022

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. 

The day was recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.  Juneteenth’s commemoration is on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865, announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in Texas, which was the last state of the Confederacy with institutional slavery.  Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in the majority of the 50 U.S. states. It is also often observed for celebrating African-American culture.

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 157 years after emancipation.

To commemorate Juneteenth, here are some books and ebooks on the history of slavery and emancipation,  slave rebellion, the Reconstruction era, and black freedom movements,  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.

African Founders : How Enslaved People Expanded American Freedom by David Hackett Fischer

A brilliant synthesis of African and African-American history that shows how slavery differed in different regions of the country, and how the Africans and their descendants influenced the culture, commerce, and laws of the early United States.

All That She Carried : The Journey Of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles

This is the poignant tale of a family heirloom passed down through generations of Black women. Rose, an enslaved woman in 1850s South Carolina, gave her daughter, Ashley, a sack of some items on the eve of Ashley’s sale to a different owner. Rose embroidered it with a message of love that endured. Years later, Ashley’s great-granddaughter, Ruth Middleton, added her own words to the heirloom, continuing the chain of the family’s history.

Black Ghost Of Empire : The Long Death Of Slavery And The Failure Of Emancipation by Kris Manjapra

The 1619 Project illuminated the ways in which every aspect of life in the United States was and is shaped by the existence of slavery.  This book focuses on emancipation and how this opportunity to make right further codified the racial caste system–instead of obliterating it. Manjapra identifies five types of emancipation–explaining them in chronological order–along with the lasting impact these transitions had on formerly enslaved groups around the Atlantic.

The Cause Of Freedom : A Concise History Of African Americans by Jonathan Scott Holloway

This book considers how, for centuries, African Americans have fought for what the black feminist intellectual Anna Julia Cooper called “the cause of freedom.” It begins in Jamestown in 1619, when the first shipment of enslaved Africans arrived in that settlement. It narrates the creation of asystem of racialized chattel slavery, the eventual dismantling of that system in the national bloodletting of the Civil War, and the ways that civil rights disputes have continued to erupt in the more than 150 years since Emancipation.

The Color Of Abolition : How A Printer, A Prophet, And A Contessa Moved A Nation by Linda R. Hirshman

The story of the fascinating, fraught alliance among Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Maria Weston Chapman–and how its breakup led to the success of America’s most important social movement.

The Creole Rebellion : The Most Successful Slave Revolt In American History by Bruce Chadwick

En route for a New Orleans slave-auction block in November 1841, nineteen captives mutinied, killing one man and injuring several others. After taking control of the vessel, mutineer Madison Washington forced the crewmen to sail to the Bahamas. Despite much local hysteria upon their arrival, all of the 135 slaves aboard the ship won their freedom there.

The Devil’s Half Acre : The Untold Story Of How One Woman Liberated The South’s Most Notorious Slave Jail by Kristen Green

Green draws on years of deep research to tell the extraordinary hidden story of young Mary Lumpkin, an enslaved woman who sought freedom and lit a path for liberation for thousands more.  She was forced to have the children of a brutal slave trader and live on the premises of his slave jail, known as the “Devil’s Half Acre.” When she inherited the jail after the death of her slaveholder, she transformed it into “God’s Half Acre,” a school where Black men could fulfill their dreams. It still exists today as Virginia Union University, one of America’s first Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  

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 Last Slave Ship : The True Story Of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, And An Extraordinary Reckoning by Ben Raines

The incredible true story of the last ship to carry enslaved people to America, the remarkable town its survivors founded after emancipation, and the complicated legacy their descendants carry with them to this day-by the journalist who discovered the ship’s remains.

Of Blood And Sweat : Black Lives And The Making Of White Power And Wealth by Clyde W. Ford

The story of how Black lives and labor created White power and wealth in agriculture, politics, jurisprudence, law enforcement, culture, medicine, financial services, and other fields. Through the lives of individual Black men and women a deeper understanding unravels of the role Blacks played, directly and indirectly, in creating American institutions of power and wealth-while never allowed full participation. 

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

Interweaving American history, dramatic family chronicle, and searing episodes of memoir, Annette Gordon-Reed, the descendant of enslaved people brought to Texas in the 1850s, recounts the origins of Juneteenth and explores the legacies of the holiday that remain with us. 

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.

The Republic Of Violence : The Tormented Rise Of Abolition In Andrew Jackson’s America by Jeff Dickey

A new history of the 1830s anti-slavery movement and the unprecedented violence with which it was met. Dickey focuses on several key abolitionist leaders, notably William Lloyd Garrison, easily the best-known figure of the movement’s early years. 

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.

Running From Bondage : Enslaved Women And Their Remarkable Fight For Freedom In Revolutionary America by Karen Cook Bell

 Bell tells the compelling stories of enslaved women, who comprised one-third of all runaways, and the ways in which they fled or attempted to flee bondage during and after the Revolutionary War.

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.

To Walk About In Freedom : The Long Emancipation Of Priscilla Joyner by Carole Emberton

Priscilla Joyner was born into the world of slavery in 1858. Her life story, which she recounted in an oral history decades later, captures the complexity of emancipation. Based on interviews that Joyner and formerly enslaved people had with the Depression-era Federal Writers Project, historian Emberton draws a portrait of the steps they took in order to feel free, something no legal mandate could instill. Joyner’s life exemplifies the deeply personal, highly emotional nature of freedom and the decisions people made, from the seemingly mundane.

Unsung : Unheralded Narratives Of American Slavery & Abolition by The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Anew historical anthology from transatlantic slavery to the Reconstruction curated by the Schomburg Center, that makes the case for focusing on the histories of Black people as agents and architects of their own lives and ultimate liberation.

Washington At The Plow : The Founding Farmer And The Question Of Slavery by Bruce A. Ragsdale

George Washington spent most of his time farming, often employing experimental methods. Washington saw slave-powered scientific agriculture as the key to the nation’s prosperity. Bruce Ragsdale argues that it was slave labor’s inefficiency as much as its inhumanity that finally convinced Washington to emancipate the men and women bonded to him.

For audiovisual enlightenment on the topic, you can stream these documentaries on  Kanopy, and Hoopla.

-Archana, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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