June 19 is not a new holiday, but it is new to many people – it was only declared a federal holiday last year. This novelty means that many will have questions about the significance of the holiday and how best to observe it. It also brings difficult questions from children about the nation’s history of black enslavement.
As with most things in life, the best first step to better knowledge is to open a good book.
June 19 commemorates the date when slaves in Galveston, Texas became aware of the liberation of slaves in breakaway states through the Emancipation Proclamation, and has been celebrated by black Americans since 1865. June 19 has been primarily celebrated in Texas, but has taken on greater national prominence following racial recalculations in the summer of 2020 and debates over school talks from critical race theory.
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Whether you’re a long-time celebrant or looking to learn more, reading books about the history and legacy of Juneteenth can help you commemorate its 157th anniversary.
“We need to love our country enough to face its complicated history, especially as we grapple with racial inequality and injustice right now,” said Wes Moore, a military veteran, CEO of Robin Hood, a nonprofit organization fighting poverty and author of “Five Days,” USA TODAY said in 2020. “This is a time when it is essential to raise Black voices and stories. Juneteenth is about more than just a historic celebration: it is a mandate to reflect on the progress that has been made but to recognize how much work we still have to do.”
For those looking for ways to do so, here are some of the books experts recommend reading.
‘Stamped from the Beginning’ and other adult books for more
Learning more about how systemic racism is rooted in the country’s history is the way to help heal the future, experts say.
“For adults, having a better understanding of slavery and its function in the American economy sets the stage for an appreciation of Juneteenth,” said Dr. Beverly Tatum, psychologist and author of “Why All Black Children Are they sitting together in the cafeteria? And other conversations about race,” USA TODAY said.
For a better understanding, start with these recommended readings from Tatum, Moore, and bestseller lists on Juneteenth, slavery, and black history:
- “Half Was Never Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward E. Baptist
- “Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America” by W. Caleb McDaniel
- “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
- “June 16th” by Annette Gordon Reed
- “They were his property” by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers
- “Stone the Road” by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
- “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead
- “My Vanishing Country” by Bakari Sellers
- “We were eight years in power” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- “The Black Pain” by Terrie Williams
- “Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin
- “Here I Stand” by Paul Robeson
- “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson
- “The Strange Career of Jim Crow” by C. Vann Woodward
- “Mirror of America” by John Hope Franklin
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‘Juneteenth for Mazie’, more stories to spark conversation with kids and teens
For younger kids, the picture and chapter books offer a historical look to spark conversations at home about America as a whole.
“We are in the midst of an unprecedented protest movement calling for change,” Moore said, referring at the time to nationwide protests against racism and police brutality against black people following the death of George Floyd. “Not only does Juneteenth – a day that has never received the attention or prominence it deserves amid our holidays and our history – feels different, but the conversations we have, the collective progress towards which we all work, also feel different.”
Some expert-recommended and best-selling book options for children and teens include:
- “All Different Now: Juneteenth, The First Day of Freedom” by Angela Johnson, illustrated by EB Lewis
- “Juneteenth for Mazie” written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper
- “The Story of Juneteenth: An Interactive Historical Adventure” by Steven Otfinoski
- “Freedom Upon Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Come to Life” by Ashley Bryan
- “Jamboree of June 19” by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Yvonne Buchanan
- “Black History for Beginners” by Denise Dennis, illustrated by Susan Willmarth
- “Wagon Wheels” by Barbara Brenner, illustrated by Don Bolognese
- “Freedom Calls Me” by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Rod Brown
- “Dave the potter: artist, poet, slave” by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier
- “Escape From Slavery: Five Journeys to Freedom” by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Charles Lilly
- “Suwe” by Lupita Nyong’o
- “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
Contributor: Barbara VanDenburgh, USA TODAY