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Books for Juneteenth

Juneteenth commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States, as well as African American freedom, education, and achievement.

May 20, 2022

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement.

This booklist includes books on enslaved people and their experiences, abolitionists, emancipation, and the more. Books are split up into history and true stories (non-fiction), biography and memoir, and fiction.

 

History and True Stories

The 1619 Project

The 1619 Project
A New Origin Story

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Caitlin Roper, Ilena Silverman,, Jake Silverstein

This ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began on the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery reimagines if our national narrative actually started in late August of 1619, when a ship arrived in Jamestown bearing a cargo of 20-30 enslaved people from Africa.

The agitators

The Agitators
Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights

Dorothy Wickenden

The best-selling author of Nothing Daunted chronicles the revolutionary activities of Harriet Tubman, Frances Seward and Martha Wright, discussing their vital role in the Underground Railroad, abolition and the early women’s rights movement.

The Amistad rebellion

The Amistad Rebellion
An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom

Marcus Rediker

A scholarly account of the 19th-century slave ship rebellion is presented from the perspectives of the slaves and discusses their shared culture on another continent and their harrowing fight for freedom while placing their victory in a context of the great chain of resistance spanning the earliest slave revolts through the Civil Rights era.

Black fortunes

Black Fortunes
The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires

Shomari Wills

The astonishing untold history of America’s first black millionaires-former slaves who endured incredible challenges to amass and maintain their wealth for a century, from the Jacksonian period to the Roaring Twenties-self-made entrepreneurs whose unknown success mirrored that of American business heroes such as Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Thomas Edison.

Bound for Canaan

Bound for Canaan
The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America

Fergus M. Bordewich

Offers insight into the Underground Railroad and the role played by westward expansion, the spiritual beliefs that motivated each side of the conflict, and the efforts of black and white citizens to save tens of thousands of lives.

Connecticut in the American Civil War

Connecticut in the American Civil War
Slavery, Sacrifice, and Survival

Matthew Warshauer

Connecticut in the American Civil War offers readers a remarkable window into the state’s involvement in a conflict that challenged and defined the unity of a nation.

The crooked path to abolition

The Crooked Path to Abolition
Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution

James Oakes

An award-winning scholar uncovers Lincoln’s strategy for abolishing slavery in this groundbreaking history of the sectional crisis and Civil War. Some celebrate Lincoln for freeing the slaves; others fault him for a long-standing conservatism on abolition and race. James Oakes gives us another option in this brilliant exploration of Lincoln and the end of slavery.

Four hundred souls

Four Hundred Souls
A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

Ibram X. Kendi, Keisha N. Blain

Co-edited by the National Book Award-winning author of How to Be an Antiracist, a 400-year chronicle of African-American history is written in five-year segments as documented by 80 multidisciplinary historians, artists and writers.

Gateway to freedom

Gateway to Freedom
The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

Eric Foner

Traces the workings of the underground railroad in slave-dependent New York by three lesser-known heroes who coordinated with black dockworkers and counterparts in other states to help thousands of fugitive slaves between 1830 and 1860.

How the word is passed

How the Word is Passed
A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America

Clint Smith

‘How the Word is Passed’ is Clint Smith’s revealing, contemporary portrait of America as a slave-owning nation. Beginning in his own hometown of New Orleans, Smith leads the reader through an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks—those that are honest about the past and those that are not—that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves.

I've got a home in glory land

I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land
A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad

Karolyn Smardz Frost

Traces the story of former slaves Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, who launched a daring escape from their slave masters in 1831 and became the subjects of a legal dispute between Canada and the United States regarding the Underground Railroad.

The last slave ship

The Last Slave Ship
The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning

Ben Raines

This extraordinary true story of the last ship to carry enslaved people to America recounts its perilous journey, its rediscovery and its complex legacy—and how America continues to struggle with the traumatic past of slavery and the ways in which racial oppression continue to this day.

Midnight rising

Midnight Rising
John Brown and Raid That Sparked the Civil War

Tony Horwitz

Chronicles the 1859 raid by radical abolitionist John Brown on Harpers Ferry, revealing how his acts, deemed terrorism by the South, prompted a counterattack by Robert E. Lee and galvanized Northern supporters during Lincoln’s election campaign.

On Juneteenth

On Juneteenth

Annette Gordon-Reed

In this intricately woven tapestry of American history, dramatic family chronicle, and searing episodes of memoir, 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.

Passages to freedom

Passages to Freedom
The Underground Railroad in History and Memory

David W. Blight

Looks at the history of the Underground Railroad, including the hiding places, the routes, way stations, the role of American Indians, and border crossings into Mexico and the Caribbean.

The president and the freedom fighter

The President and the Freedom Fighter
Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Their Battle to Save America’s Soul

Brian Kilmeade

The coauthor of “George Washington’s Secret Six” turns a nearly forgotten slice history into a dramatic story that follows heroes Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and how they moved from strong disagreement to friendship, changing the course of history.

Separate

Separate
The Story of Plessy V. Ferguson, and America’s Journey From Slavery to Segregation

Steve Luxenberg

Documents the story of the infamous nineteenth-century Supreme Court ruling in favor of segregation, tracing the half-century of history that shaped the ruling and the reverberations that are still being felt today.

A slave no more

A Slave No More
Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom : Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation

David W. Blight

Two slave narratives that document the experiences of runaway slaves who managed to reach the protection of Union forces are accompanied by biographies of both men that reconstruct their childhoods, escape, Civil War service, and successful later lives.

South to freedom

South to Freedom
Runaway Slaves to Mexico and the Road to the Civil War

Alice Baumgartner

Shares the lesser-known story of how pre-American Civil War slaves escaped to freedom in the south, discussing Mexico’s abolishment of slavery in 1837 and the impact of Mexico’s strong antislavery policies on destabilizing practices in America.

The war before the war

The War Before the War
Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul From the Revolution to the Civil War

Andrew Delbanco

Explains how fugitive slaves escaping from the South to the northern states awakened northerners to the true nature of slavery and how the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act divided the nation and set it on the path to civil war.

The warmth of other suns

The Warmth of Other Suns
The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

Isabel Wilkerson

In an epic history covering the period from the end of World War I through the 1970s, a Pulitzer Prize winner chronicles the decades-long migration of African Americans from the South to the North and West through the stories of three individuals and their families.

Watermelon and Red Birds

Watermelon and Red Birds
A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations

Nicole Taylor

All-day cook-outs with artful salads, bounteous dessert spreads, and raised glasses of “red drink” are essential to Juneteenth gatherings. In Watermelon and Red Birds, Nicole puts jubilation on the main stage. As a master storyteller and cook, she bridges the traditional African-American table and 21st-century flavors in stories and recipes. Nicole synthesizes all the places we’ve been, all the people we have come from, all the people we have become, and all the culinary ideas we have embraced.

The zealot and the emancipator

The Zealot and the Emancipator
John Brown, Abraham Lincoln and the Struggle for American Freedom

H.W. Brands

Follows the epic struggle over slavery as embodied by John Brown and Abraham Lincoln—two men moved to radically different acts to confront our nation’s gravest sin.

 

Biography and Memoir

Barracoon

Barracoon
The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’

Zora Neale Hurston

Presents a previously unpublished work that illuminates the horror and injustices of slavery in the true story of one of the last known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade, Cudjo Lewis, who was abducted from Africa on the last “Black Cargo” ship to arrive in the United States.

Be free or die

Be Free or Die
The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls’ Escape From Slavery to Union Hero

Cate Lineberry

Profiles the little-known African American slave, describing how he seized a Confederate steamer and delivered it to Union forces, which freed him and his family and led him to become the first black captain of an Army ship.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass
Prophet of Freedom

David W. Blight

The author of “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory” chronicles the life of the escaped slave who became one of the greatest orators of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.

A gentleman of color

A Gentleman of Color
The Life of James Forten

Julie Winch

When James Forten died in 1842, five thousand mourners, black and white, turned out to honor a man who had earned the respect of society across the racial divide. This is the first serious biography of Forten, who stands beside Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the pantheon of African Americans who fundamentally shaped American history.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe
A Spiritual Life

Nancy Koester

Recounts the life of Stowe as a Christian author who drew inspiration from her faith, describing how it fueled her public fight against slavery and her own personal struggle through deep grief to find a gracious God.

Mr. and Mrs. Prince

Mr. and Mrs. Prince
How an Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Family Moved Out of Slavery and Into Legend

Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina

A portrait of an African-American poet and her Revolutionary War veteran husband describes their groundbreaking court battle to retain their land in Vermont and Massachusetts when neighbors attempted to run them out of town.

Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Frederick Douglass

The preeminent American slave narrative first published in 1845, Frederick Douglass’ Narrative powerfully details the life of the abolitionist from his birth into slavery in 1818 to his escape to the North in 1838, how he endured the daily physical and spiritual brutalities of his owners and driver, how he learned to read and write, and how he grew into a man who could only live free or die. In addition to Douglass’s classic autobiography, this new edition also includes his most famous speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”?and his only known work of fiction, “The Heroic Slave”, which was written, in part, as a response to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

She came to slay

She Came to Slay
The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman

Erica Armstrong Dunbar

A lively, informative and illustrated tribute to one of the most exceptional women in American history—Harriet Tubman—looks at a heroine whose fearlessness and activism still resonates today.

Sojourner Truth's America

Sojourner Truth’s America

Margaret Washington

This fascinating biography tells the story of nineteenth-century America through the life of one of its most charismatic and influential characters: Sojourner Truth. In an in-depth account of this amazing activist, Margaret Washington unravels Sojourner Truth’s world within the broader panorama of African American slavery and the nation’s most significant reform era.

To walk about in freedom

To Walk About in Freedom
The Long Emancipation of Priscilla Joyner

Carole Emberton

Giving us a kaleidoscopic look at the lived experiences of emancipation, and challenging the consequences of failing to reckon with the afterlife of slavery, this candid oral history recounts the story of Priscilla Joyner who embarked on a quest to define freedom after the Civil War.

Up from slavery: an autobiography

Up From Slavery: an Autobiography

Booker T. Washington

Up from Slavery is the 1901 autobiography of Booker T. Washington sharing his personal experience of having to work to rise from the position of a slave child during the Civil War, to the difficulties and obstacles he overcame to get an education at the new Hampton Institute, to his work establishing the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to help black people learn useful, marketable skills and work to pull themselves up by the bootstraps.

William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce
The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner

William Hague

A major biography of abolitionist William Wilberforce, the man who fought for twenty years to abolish the Atlantic slave trade.

 

Fiction

The abolitionist's daughter

The Abolitionist’s Daughter

Diane C. McPhail

A tragic string of events is set in motion for the Southern-abolitionist Mathews family when, on a Mississippi morning in 1859, Emily Matthews begs her father to save a slave, Nathan, about to be auctioned away from his family.

Beloved

Beloved

Toni Morrison

Sethe, an escaped slave living in post-Civil War Ohio with her daughter and mother-in-law, is persistantly haunted by the ghost of her dead baby girl.

Black cloud rising

Black Cloud Rising

David Wright Faladé

Sergeant Richard Etheridge, the son of a slave and her master, must prove that his troops in the African Brigade are skilled and trustworthy as they raid the areas occupied by the Confederate Partisan Rangers in the fall of 1863.

Conjure women

Conjure Women

Afia Atakora

A midwife and conjurer of curses reflects on her life before and after the Civil War, her relationships with the families she serves and the secrets she has learned about a plantation owner’s daughter.

An extraordinary union

An Extraordinary Union

Alyssa Cole

During the Civil War two undercover agents, Elle Burns, a former slave, and Malcolm McCall a detective in Pinkerton’s Secret Service uncover a plot that could lead to a Confederate victory and vow to preserve the Union at any cost.

Juneteenth

Juneteenth

Ralph Ellison

The story of a black man who passes for white and becomes a race-baiting U.S. senator. When he is shot on the Senate floor, the first visitor in hospital is a black musician-turned-preacher who raised him. As the two men talk, their respective stories come out.

Red River

Red River

Lalita Tademy

The lives of three generations of two African-American families intertwine in the aftermath of the Civil War as newly freed slaves struggle to build new lives in The Bottom, a poor settlement just down Red River from Colfax, Louisiana.

The sweetness of water

The Sweetness of Water

Nathan Harris

In the waning days of the Civil War, brothers Prentiss and Landry, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, seek refuge on the homestead of George Walker and his wife, Isabelle. The Walkers, wracked by the loss of their only son to the war, hire the brothers to work their farm, hoping through an unexpected friendship to stanch their grief. Prentiss and Landry, meanwhile, plan to save money for the journey north and a chance to reunite with their mother, who was sold away when they were boys.

The Tubman command

The Tubman Command

Elizabeth Cobbs

Harriet Tubman was a scout for the union army and led a successful raid up the Combahee River in South Carolina that freed 750 men, women, and children. This is the historical novel of her heroic raid.

The underground railroad

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

The Underground River

The Underground River

Martha Conway

While working as a seamstress with a traveling acting troupe, May Bedloe is compelled by abolitionist Flora Howard to ferry babies given up by their slave mothers across the river to freedom.

Washington Black

Washington Black

Esi Edugyan

Unexpectedly chosen to be a family manservant, an eleven-year-old Barbados sugar-plantation slave is initiated into a world of scientific inquiry and dignity before a devastating betrayal propels him throughout the world in search of his true self.

The water dancer

The Water Dancer

Ta-Nehisi Coates

A Virginia slave narrowly escapes a drowning death through the intervention of a mysterious force that compels his escape and personal underground war against slavery.

Yellow wife

Yellow Wife

Sadeqa Johnson

Born on a plantation but set apart from the others by her mother’s position as a medicine woman, a young slave is forced to leave home at eighteen and unexpectedly finds herself in an infamously cruel jail.

Yonder

Yonder

Jabari Asim

Meeting at Placid Hall, a plantation in an unspecified part of the American South, Cato and Willian, subjected to the whims of their tyrannical and eccentric captor, find their friendship fraying when a visiting pastor fills their heads with ideas about independence and love.