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On June 19, 1865, 250,000 enslaved African Americans were told of their freedom, several years after the conclusion of the Civil War and the subsequent passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. This date would become known as “Juneteenth,” a celebratory event of Black jubilation and an exuberant marker for history that continued to evolve and nurture its own traditions and continued conversations about what it means to be free.

Samuel Collins III is a historian, preservationist and president of The Juneteenth Legacy Project (J19LP) — a Galveston, Texas-based nonprofit that aims “to recontextualize Juneteenth as a pivotal moment in the arc of U.S. history.”

The seventh-generation Texan has devoted a significant portion of his adult life to educating the public about Juneteenth and advocating for the day to be recognized as a national holiday.

“[It’s] important to keep educating the public at the center of the celebrations because we must always remember why we are celebrating the holiday,” Collins remarked in an email to HuffPost.

On June 17, 2021, the relentless work of many African American preservationists, social advocates and others was finally realized, when President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Amid this success, it’s imperative to observe the holiday, and all that it represents, in a way that strays from an overly white-centered lens and into the Black perspective. Just ahead, you’ll find a list of books recommended by Collins and other African American historians, community leaders, authors and others.

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Amazon

“Juneteenth: The Story Behind the Celebration” by Edward T. Cotham Jr.

Edward T. Cotham Jr. is an author and historian well known for his expertise on the Civil War and the city of Galveston, the location where Commander [Gordon] Granger made the historic end-of-slavery announcement. Cotham has even garnered the nickname of “Mr. Civil War Galveston” due to his years as a popular lecturer and battlefield guide of the area. His book, “Juneteenth,” is a meticulously written and deeply researched retelling of the events leading up to June 19, 1865, and is considered one of the first scholarly texts to examine the history, origins and truths of Juneteenth. — Recommended by Samuel Collins III, a historian, preservationist, president of The Juneteenth Legacy Project (J19LP) and seventh-generation Texan from Galveston

Amazon

“Juneteenth: A Children’s Story Special Edition” by Opal Lee

Opal Lee is an essential figure to the story of Juneteenth. A former teacher, longtime activist and harbinger of social change, she helped lead efforts to make the day a nationally recognized holiday and has been given the nickname “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” As a fierce advocate of education, she wrote this children’s book to provide an age-appropriate resource for children to enable vital conversation and learning, not just about Juneteenth, but the history of slavery, the notion of freedom and why it’s so important to remember and celebrate this day. — Recommended by Collins

Amazon

“Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations” by Nicole A. Taylor

Nicole A. Taylor, is a James Beard Award-nominated food writer and the author of several cookbooks. “Watermelon and Red Birds” is a culinary nod to history and joyful expression of “feast and freedom” with recipes like her strawberry and black pepper slab pie, watermelon kebabs and victory chicken burgers — recipes that are a culmination of her decades spent participating in Juneteenth celebrations, as well as some of her own personal dinner party dishes and incredible cocktails. The introduction of Taylor’s book is also an eloquent reflection on the complexities of this celebration, of America’s history and its present struggles. Amid the cook-out-perfect recipes, refreshing salads, comforting side dishes and satisfying desserts, Taylor writes that her cookbook is “intended to be light with the pleasures of good food and heavy with the weight of history.”— Recommended by Collins

Amazon

“Juneteenth 101 – Popular Myths and Forgotten Facts” by D.J. Norman-Cox

In “Juneteenth 101,” D.J. Norman-Cox tackles some of the most pervasive untruths about the holiday, like how June 19, 1865, marked the end of enslavement. In all actuality, it was the day the U.S. Army began the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. Cox’s fascination and in-depth research of Juneteenth began when he was asked “How did news of the proclamation get from Louisiana to New Mexico without going through Texas?” Curious about the timing of the announcements by Granger, how the news spread and what role other historic events like Watchnight played in spreading the news of freedom across the United States led him to write the book. Cox endeavors to explain that, by relying on incorrect internet sources rather than scholarly research, misconceptions are only reinforced, which “oversimplifies the complexity of slavery’s end,” according to the book’s publisher. — Recommended by Collins

Amazon

“On Juneteenth” by Annette Gordon-Reed

Annette Gordon-Reed’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “On Juneteenth” is part origin story and part dramatic family memoir composed of essays and powerful vignettes. A historian and law professor, Gordon-Reed shares personal anecdotes combined with historical facts to tell the overarching story of enslaved people brought to Civil War-era Texas, the race-based economy of the time and the day when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in the state. — Recommended by Christina Vortia, chief librarian at Howard UniversityMoorland-Spingarn Research Center, and the African and African American subject liaison at Founder Library

Amazon

“The History of Juneteenth: A History Book for New Readers” by Arlisha Norwood

This grade-school-friendly book is a comprehensive and historical account that uses colorful illustrations, accompanied by a visual timeline of events to articulate enslavement in America. It helps to answer for young readers the “how” and “why” of Juneteenth, as well as asks thought-provoking questions about how the history of Juneteenth affects the world they live in today. There’s even a quiz at the end of the book to help test your kiddo’s knowledge about what they just learned. — Recommended by Fatimah Gilliam, attorney, diversity expert, and author of ”Race Rules: What Your Black Friend Won’t Tell You”

Amazon

“Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington D.C.” by Ashanté M. Reese

Ashanté M. Reese’s book insightfully explores the social, cultural and society structures behind food access in urban areas, focusing specifically on Black residents’ experience of unequal distribution systems. Through ethnographic fieldwork, Reese links local food issues to systemic racism and tracks the impact of transnational food corporations. Reese moves from community stories to the broader restrictions and impacts of racism and gentrification, while revealing the widespread nature of these challenges.
“I teach ‘Black Food Geographies’ frequently. The book captures so much, including the essence of what Juneteenth represents to me — that is, a people’s determined efforts to create for themselves some semblance of humanistic autonomy, to speak truth to power, to do for themselves and each other, and to find and make ways toward joy and celebration despite and in the face of the country’s histories and current practices of discrimination, exclusion, and violence.”Recommended by B. Brian Foster, sociologist and co-author of “Ghosts of Segregation”

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