Celebrated June 19th, Juneteenth commemorates America's second independence day: that of enslaved Black Americans. It is not a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, but of the day on which news of Emancipation reached a group of Black Texans who were still enslaved two and a half years after it was first signed into law. As Kevin Young put it in a 2021 opinion piece for the New York Times, "The lesson of Juneteenth is both of celebration and expectation, of freedom deferred but still sought and of the freedoms to come."
Since its inaugural celebration in 1866, Juneteenth (or Jubilee Day, as it was then called) has spread in scope and meaning, amassing a long history and a complicated legacy. Initially celebrated in Black Texan communities, the holiday spread through the States with the Great Migration. Juneteenth's initial celebration of emancipation became mingled with fights against newer forms of oppression. And just last year, it was signed into law as a federal holiday.
Today, Juneteenth brims with hope, joy, and resilience, but also with grief, anger, and the reality that we are still far from racial justice. While its institution as a federal holiday was met with some criticism, its growing prominence in American culture is a step towards prioritizing Black voices & histories — and deconstructing the myth of America as the "land of the free".
Explore some of our recommended reads below for incredible stories from Black American authors — or check our our Black History Month collection for nine different book lists, sorted by genre.