Juneteenth, on June 19 (marked this year with a day off work for many on June 20), celebrates the day enslaved people in Texas finally learned they had been freed more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, 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 if you’re in the market for more), why not acknowledge the day with a little reading to get up to speed on its history and significance? Fortunately historians, publishers, and other experts have plenty of book suggestions for entrepreneurs looking to use the holiday off to widen their understanding of the African American experience. Here are eight great options.
1. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Penguin books unsurprisingly touts its 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 it a fascinating read).
“From 1915 to 1970, the exodus of almost six million people who fled the South for northern and western cities in search of a better life changed the face of America,” explains Penguin. The Warmth of Other Suns tells their story.
2. Festivals of Freedom by Mitch Kachun
If you’re looking to get a better handle on the history of Juneteenth and its historical precursors, then University of Massachusetts Amherst history professor Barbara Krauthamer recommends this title. “Festivals of Freedom is a lovely book, long in sweep and broad in geographic scope,” she tells Five Books. “Katchun looks at the different freedom celebrations that African Americans created and maintained.”
3. A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Berry and Kali Gross
For a more sweeping look at Black history, Krauthamer recommends this fascinating looking book from two fellow history professors. “This is a history 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 model of history conveyed through the stories of great men and turn it on its head. They’re looking at how Black women shaped and were shaped by the politics, the economics and the social dynamics of each era in American history.”
4. You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson
Looking for something a bit less academic but nonetheless socially conscious and educational? On Apartment Therapy writer Jordan Snowden recommends You Can’t Touch My Hair from comedian Phoebe Robinson.
“If you’ve ever indulged in Phoebe Robinson’s stand up comedy or her podcast turned into TV show ‘2 Dope Queens,’ you know that Robinson has a knack for being deeply funny and a bit absurd while using mundane personal experiences to make observations about being a Black woman in America. Her books are no different, and they make for a light, humorous read that provides poignant cultural criticisms,” says Snowden.
5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This much-celebrated book made it onto multiple Juneteenth reading lists I consulted. The writers behind Boston University’s picks explain why the book is so beloved: “In this raw essay about race, Coates writes a letter to his son about his life as a Black man, his fears and dreams for his son, the nature of the Black body in America, and his aspirations for the Black community. Coates weaves an intimate and heart-wrenching look into Blackness in America.”
6. On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
This book of essays from 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, which notes On Juneteenth “weaves together American history and her own family history and eloquently pays tribute to the integral role of Blacks in shaping Texas.”
7. SLAY by Brittney Morris
Snowdon also has suggestions for page turners to celebrate the day, including this novel. “I will forever scream for the rooftops my love for Brittney Morris’s SLAY and how I wish it were around when I was a young, nerdy Black girl. The YA novel follows seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson who is living a double life: In one, she’s a regular straight-A student. In the other, Kiera’s secretly the creator of a multiplayer online role-playing card game called SLAY,” she writes, pleading: “Someone please make this into a movie!”
8. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Or, how about a fun romance to mark a holiday that has a theme of Black joy? The first in the Brown Sisters romance series, Get a Life, Chloe Brown “introduces you to Chloe Brown, who, after a near-death experience attempts to ‘get a life’ by creating a list of things she thinks will help her live more fully. Chloe enlists a handyman named Red to help her, and let’s just say, things get very steamy from there,” explains Snowdon, who concludes “if you enjoy this book, there are two more in the series to binge.”
Bonus points if you buy any of these books from a Black-owned book store.