Summer Read: On Juneteenth

Erika Bentley Holland
June 22, 2022

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
Recommendation by Erika Bentley Holland

“Origin stories matter, for individuals, groups of people, and for nations. They inform our sense of self; telling us what kind of people we believe we are, what kind of nation we believe we live in.” -On Juneteenth, Annete Gordon-Reed

June is when we tell stories central to our identities. Sometimes the essence of a story is reduced to a single sentence, like ‘the first Pride was a riot.’ Clearly, it is more complicated than that. Origin stories are never simple.

Soon we’ll celebrate the Fourth of July, a holiday that has become so distilled we do not even say the name of the holiday anymore: Independence Day. By leaving that story blank, we say two things: first, everyone knows what we’re celebrating, and second, everyone is free to imagine what it means for themselves. In between barbecue invitations, though, it is necessary to reflect on the gap between our national narrative and the lived experience of its people.

“As painful as it may be, recognizing—though not dwelling on—tragedy and the role it plays in our individual lives, and in the life of a state or nation, is, I think, a sign of maturity.” -On Juneteenth, Annete Gordon-Reed

As a Washingtonian who grew up in a predominantly white town, I became aware of Juneteenth a few years ago. The story of enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas learning about their emancipation two years late was not taught in my public school. I had a lot of learning to do.

If you have questions about the history of the newest Federal holiday, On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed is a fantastic starting point. On Juneteenth weaves together Gordon-Reed’s personal experiences with empathetic retellings of African American history. I am grateful to Professor Gordon-Reed for sharing her expertise.

Annette Gordon-Reed is a descendent of enslaved Texans, Pulitzer Prize winning author, historian of American law, and a Harvard professor. For all that, On Juneteenth is only 148 pages and light enough for a summer read!

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