Juneteenth Collection 2024

Juneteenth Collection 2024

I am pleased to offer this year’s collection of books for Juneteenth! Designated a federal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth commemorates the arrival of federal troops in Galveston, Texas in 1865, marking the official end of slavery two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

This is a holiday that many of our fellow citizens have been celebrating since 1866. For Black Americans, Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday changes little about the way they might celebrate the day, but for all Americans, it brings the holiday and its meaning into the forefront of our thoughts. It represents one of most celebrated principles of what it means to be American, freedom, while drawing attention to America’s worst failures at realizing this ambition: its citizenry’s willing reliance on enslavement.  Even under federal enforcement, slaveholders withheld information about emancipation or threatened violence against those who might seek to leave. And in the years following Reconstruction, new laws remade the structures of slavery and white supremacy in different ways. Emancipation remains an ongoing process in America and worldwide.

But Juneteenth is a joyous holiday too, about resilience, perseverance, and hope.  What a day for celebration! To have meaningful freedom become real for oneself and one's family is the most celebratory thing I can imagine.  And, this idea of a joyful, hopeful celebration helps me to feel what we're aiming for, and why it matters. It helps me have a way to share it with children, too, and think about the choices I have--and we have--to bring our ideals into reality. Sometimes they feel like impossible dreams: peace, democracy, and liberty.  Sometimes it feels like Juneteenth.

Our choices of reading material are intended to reflect the particular problem of emancipation in this country, and the efforts to secure it. We have a newly-published slave narrative by John Swanson Jacobs, brother of Harriet Jacobs, entitled The United States Governed by Six Hundred Thousand Despots, which he published in Australia after fleeing the United States. This narrative was written “in language charged with all that can be said about America outside America, untampered with and unedited by white abolitionists.” We also have Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom, the true story of Ellen and William Craft’s daring escape from enslavement, and Klan War: Ulysses S. Grant and the Battle to Save Reconstruction, a “new history of the first anti-terrorist campaign waged on American soil.”  If you love to read history, as I do, I believe you will find these books sparkle with the excitement of great craftsmanship.  These are things I feel I need to know and they are also great histories. 

We always aim to stock some classics as part of our featured collections, in case you are building up your personal library. We have Black Reconstruction in America by W. E. B. DuBois, Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison. We also aim to stock children's books that feature substantive content in a way that can introduce children to our nation's history. We insist (and have had no trouble finding) children's books that are also outstanding in their art and musical prose and poetry.

Greenfield has put together a wonderful sidewalk mural walk, which I've been seeing coming together, celebrating the role of our city in this work of Freedom, such as participation in the Underground Railroad and broader abolition movement. There will be music and a parade--it should be a great day to around in the community. I would be delighted to have you stop over and see the books we've put together, too.