8 books to read to celebrate Juneteenth

Juneteenth, June 19 (marked this year as a day off for many on June 20), celebrates the day enslaved people in Texas finally learned they had been freed more than two years after signing the Proclamation of emancipation, and serves as a more general celebration of Black resilience, accomplishment, and joy.

It’s long been celebrated by Texans and many Black Americans, but if you don’t yet have many traditions to mark the holiday (or are looking for more), why not recognize the day with a little reading to get you up to speed up its history and meaning? Fortunately, historians, editors, and other experts have plenty of book suggestions for entrepreneurs looking to use the holidays to broaden their understanding of the African-American experience. Here are eight great options.

1. The warmth of other suns by Isabel Wilkerson

The Penguin books unsurprisingly tout their own titles as great Juneteenth reads, but this history book is also recommended by the Pulitzer Prize committee and former President Obama (and, much less illustriously by me – I found that was a fascinating read).

“From 1915 to 1970, the exodus of nearly six million people who fled the South to cities North and West in search of a better life changed the face of America,” says Penguin. The warmth of other suns tell their story.

2. Freedom celebrations by Mitch Kachun

If you’re looking to better understand the history of Juneteenth and its historical precursors, Barbara Krauthamer, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recommends this title. “Freedom celebrations is a charming, long and geographically expansive book,” she tells Five Books. “Katchun examines the various celebrations of freedom that African Americans have created and maintained.

3. A history of black women in the United States by Daina Berry and Kali Gross

For a more in-depth look at black history, Krauthamer recommends this fascinating book by two fellow history professors. “It’s a story of the United States told through the stories of black women by two leading historians,” she explains. “Daina Berry and Kali Gross take the usual pattern of history conveyed through the stories of great men and turn it upside down. They look at how black women have shaped and have been shaped by the politics, economics and social dynamics of each era of American history.”

4. You can’t touch my hair by Phoebe Robinson

Looking for something a little less academic but still socially conscious and educational? On Apartment Therapy writer Jordan Snowden recommends You I can’t touch my hair by actress Phoebe Robinson.

“If you’ve ever indulged in Phoebe Robinson’s stand-up comedy or her podcast-turned-TV show ‘2 Dope Queens,’ you know Robinson has a knack for being deeply funny and a bit absurd while using mundane personal experiences to comment on being a black woman in America. Her books are no different, and they are light, humorous reading that provides poignant cultural critiques,” says Snowden.

5. between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This very famous book has been on several June 19 reading lists that I have looked at. The authors behind Boston University’s picks explain why the book is so popular: “In this raw essay on race, Coates writes a letter to his son about his life as a black man, his fears and his dreams for his son, the nature of black bodies in America and his aspirations for the black community. Coates weaves an intimate and heartbreaking look at blackness in America.

6. June 16 by Annette Gordon Reed

This book of essays by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy “sheds light on the history of slavery in America, leading up to the events that culminated in Juneteenth,” writes BU, who notes June 16 “weaves together American history and his own family history and eloquently pays tribute to the integral role of black people in the shaping of Texas.”

seven. KILL by Britney Morris

Snowdon also has some suggestions for page-turners to celebrate the day, including this novel. “I will forever shout from the rooftops my love for Brittney Morris KILL and how I wish it was there when I was a nerdy young black girl. The YA novel follows seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson, who lives a double life: In one, she’s a regular A-level student. In the other, Kiera is secretly the creator of a multiplayer card game in line called SLAY,” she wrote, pleading, “Someone please make a movie out of it!”

8. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Or, how about a fun romance to mark a dark joy-themed holiday? The first in the Brown Sisters love series, Get a Life, Chloe Brown “Introduces you to Chloe Brown, who, after a near-death experience, tries to ‘earn a life’ by creating a list of things she thinks will help her live a fuller life. Chloe enlists a handyman appointed Red to help him out, and let’s just say, things get really hot from there,” says Snowdon, who concludes “if you like this book, there are two more in the series to binge.”

Bonus points if you buy any of these books from a black-owned bookstore.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

About Stuart M. McFarland

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