Juneteenth, which celebrates the day that officially ended slavery in the United States, became a federal holiday in 2021. Many organizations (including Bucks County Free Library) will observe the holiday this year on Monday, June 19.
Books can help us reflect on the importance of Juneteenth and the lasting impact of slavery and the Reconstruction era. Here are some suggested titles to get you started.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
It’s a classic for a reason! This Pulitzer Prize winner is a spellbinding portrait of a formerly enslaved woman haunted by the past. When a mysterious teen girl arrives, calling herself Beloved, terrible secrets from the past emerge into the present.
Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
This sweeping multigenerational novel sends you into the South before and after the Civil War. It tells the stories of three unforgettable women: wise healing woman Miss May Belle; her daughter, Rue, who doesn’t want to become a midwife like her mother; and their master’s daughter, Varina.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
In this unique fantasy novella, the water-breathing descendants of enslaved African women thrown from slavers’ ships have built an underwater society. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered by all, is carried by one person: Yetu, the historian. But the memories are starting to destroy her, sending her fleeing to the surface – and a world her people left long ago.
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
A free-born Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie knows her mother has a vision for their future: Libertie must go to medical school and join her mother in the field of medicine. Instead, Libertie finds herself drawn to music – and a young man from Haiti who promises she will be his equal on the island.
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
Late in the Civil War, brothers Prentiss and Landry are hired to work on the homestead of a couple who lost their only son in the war. Their plan is to reunite with their mother, who was sold away when they were boys. Parallel to their story runs a forbidden romance between two Confederate soldiers who must manage the chaos that results when their secret is discovered.
Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson
Pheby was promised her freedom when she turned eighteen – and instead finds herself in the infamous Devil’s Half-Acre, a jail where slaves are tortured and sold every day. Forced to be the mistress of the jail’s brutal owner, Pheby faces the ultimate sacrifice to protect herself and fight for her freedom.
Black Women Will Save the World: An Anthem by April Ryan
This celebration of Black women’s roles in society introduces women of different ages and from diverse backgrounds. Each one devoted her life to making the world a better place–even if that meant stepping “out of place.”
Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry
This book draws upon the ideas of figures like James Baldwin, W. E. B. DuBois, Toni Morrison, and others to reflect on coming of age as a Black person in contemporary America. With deeply affecting prose that touches on race, gender, and living well, Imani Perry explores what it means to parent and love Black children in today’s world.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
Mikki Kendall argues in this book that food insecurity, education, neighborhood safety, living wages, and medical care are all feminist issues – and deserve more time and attention among feminist activists. To be truly inclusive, she argues, feminists should better acknowledge how race, class, sexual orientation and ability intersect with gender.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
If you enjoy the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson, this book is for you. I’m Still Here explores how and why our actions often fall short of our words – even in a time when nearly all institutions claim to value diversity and inclusion.
The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza
In 2013, Alicia Garza wrote on Facebook: “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.” Shortly after, #BlackLivesMatter became not just a trending hashtag, but an international movement. In this book, Garza reflects on the principles and strategies that are needed to inspire the next generation of changemakers.
Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
An essential history of the Reconstruction era and beyond, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. guides readers through the progress and pitfalls of civil rights – from the Reconstruction Era to Jim Crow to World War I and the Harlem Renaissance.