On Juneteenth

by Annette Gordon-Reed

Hardcover, 2021




Liveright (2021), 128 pages


""It is staggering that there is no date commemorating the end of slavery in the United States." -Annette Gordon-Reed. The essential, sweeping story of Juneteenth's integral importance to American history, as told by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Texas native. Interweaving American history, dramatic family chronicle, and searing episodes of memoir, Annette Gordon-Reed, the descendant of enslaved people brought to Texas in the 1850s, recounts the origins of Juneteenth and explores the legacies of the holiday that remain with us. From the earliest presence of black people in Texas-in the 1500s, well before enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown-to the day in Galveston on June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery, Gordon-Reed's insightful and inspiring essays present the saga of a "frontier" peopled by Native Americans, Anglos, Tejanos, and Blacks that became a slaveholder's republic. Reworking the "Alamo" framework, Gordon-Reed shows that the slave-and race-based economy not only defined this fractious era of Texas independence, but precipitated the Mexican-American War and the resulting Civil War. A commemoration of Juneteenth and the fraught legacies of slavery that still persist, On Juneteenth is stark reminder that the fight for equality is ongoing"--… (more)


(80 ratings; 4.3)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Narshkite
In this brilliant, information packed and brief series of essays Gordon-Reed (the person most responsible for making white America acknowledge Sally Hemmings, her children with Thomas Jefferson, and what that says or doesn't say about our nation's foundation) once again takes on the space between
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historical "facts" and true lived experience. By that I don't just mean that she busts historical myth and hagiography regarding iconic people and events like Jefferson, or Thanksgiving, or the Alamo. She does that. But she also makes the reader consider why the myths exist, why we (or at least some of us) need(ed) them. Then she goes one step further and shares her opinion based on her lived experience on what good things are gained and lost when we dismiss the myth and try to repair the brokenness that lies beneath.

To that end Gordon-Reed blends historical data with her personal experience of being a black girl growing up in Texas who went on to be a black woman at elite academic institutions. Gordon-Reed attended some of the best schools in the world and has taught at many others. She is now a history prof at Harvard University and also teaches at Harvard Law School. In addition to other prizes won she received the Pulitzer in History and the National Book Award in Nonfiction. She shares not only her own experiences, but also those of her mother, a Spelman educated black woman teaching in Texas schools before and after integration, and those of her elderly aunt, a black woman who saw a white man acquitted of murder after he lynched a black man in a courtroom in front of the same judge who presided at his "trial."

Gordon-Reed takes this signal event, Juneteenth, which is really at its root a Texas holiday, and adds in a bit of the history of black people in Texas, and uses these things as a jumping off point to look at the strides made since the "end" of slavery, and the more numerous ways in which the promise of "equality" has not been fulfilled. The book is fascinating, not a dry moment. It is also edifying and clear-eyed without being hopeless - optimistic in a factually supportable way, if you will. If there is anything I have learned in the last 6 years it is that politics and history are personal, and the stories in this book are proof of that. I rarely say everyone should read this, but everyone should read this.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
Pulitzer Prize winning historian, Annette Gordon-Reed, has written a collection of essays which are historical documents and memoir of Black history, including her own, in Texas. Once again, the discrepancy between a stated political policy change and its reality, namely the supposed ending of
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slavery in Texas, is illuminated in this collection. It was a very interesting, well written,, and educational read, and clearly timely, as Juneteenth has so recently been declared a national holiday. When will we know a generation of Black Americans who do not live with the hypocrisy of America's racism?
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LibraryThing member bell7
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Annette Gordon-Reed explores the history of Texas through the experiences of her family and the Black community in six short essays.

By title alone, I thought I was in for a very different book specifically about the history of Juneteenth and its
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celebration. What the book actually is, though, is a blend of memoir and history reflecting on the history of Texas as it pertained to slavery and Black Americans, and how that doesn't always line up with the origin stories of a nation that become almost mythic. Skillfully blending personal history with historical record, she touches on integration and how it affected her as the first Black student in a white school, the Alamo, and, yes, Juneteenth and the consequences (good and bad) from the proclamation. A fascinating account I would readily recommend to a wide variety of readers.
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LibraryThing member MaowangVater
Annette Gordon-Reed’s history of race relations in the United States and particularly in the state of her birth, Texas combines memoir, family stories, history, and historical analysis in a short and powerful book. She starts with June 19, 1865, or Juneteenth. This was the day when General Gordon
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brought the victorious United States Army onto the island of Galveston, Texas and announced the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation to the residents of the last rebellious Confederate state to surrender and stop fighting.

The overwhelming majority of white Texans had, from their first settlement in what was then Mexico, envisioned a place where the economy was based on the unpaid labor of enslaved Americans of African descent. And they did whatever they could to disobey the order. To this day Americans are living with the results of this refusal to live up the words of the Declaration of Independence that proclaimed equality.
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LibraryThing member eduscapes
Timely Take-Aways for Life-Long Learning

Three recent works of nonfiction focus on America’s history of slavery and evolving narratives regarding acknowledgement of enslaved people.

William Still: The Underground Railroad and the Angel at Philadelphia
William C. Kashatus; April 2021; University of
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Notre Dame Press/Longleaf
Themes: history, social science, biography, African American & Black Studies
Set within the context of the broader anti-slavery movement, William C. Kashatus tells the compelling story of William Still, a key leader of the Underground Railroad and early civil rights advocate. Of particular note is the detailed database of the 995 runaway slaves who William Still helped escape between 1853 and 1861 which provides priceless information about each individual.

On Juneteenth
Annette Gordon-Reed; May 2021; Liveright/W. W. Norton
Themes: history, social science, memoir, African American & Black Studies
Blending both heart-wrenching and uplifting personal anecdotes about growing up Black in Texas with key historical events and stories, Annette Gordon-Reed takes readers on a journey through history with connections for today.

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
Clint Smith; June 2021; Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group
Themes: history, social science, memoir, African American & Black Studies
A travelogue, a memoir, a history, and a powerful reckoning… Clint Smith shares his experiences visiting sites connected with the history of enslaved people from Africa to the United States.

Let’s explore seven timely take-aways for life-long learners:
1. Free black abolitionist William Still coordinated activities of the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia. The detailed records kept by Still in the mid-nineteenth century about escaped slaves provide a priceless tool for researchers exploring the African American enslavement experience.
2. Those involved with the anti-slavery and later civil rights movements often disagreed about the best approach to address abolition, the plight of enslaved peoples, and the aftermath of slavery.
3. Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865. On this date, the news arrived in Galveston Texas proclaiming the end of slavery and defeat of the Confederacy (General Order No. 3).
4. Although long celebrated by Black Texans, Juneteenth has recently become part of the national conversation and ongoing battle to acknowledge the racism and battle for civil rights in America.
5. The nationalist-oriented, conventional narrative of American history comes from a white, English-speaking perspective closing off varied influences and viewpoints.
6. Many historical sites are working toward a more truthful approach to the discussion of enslaved people.
7. While some historical sites are striving to fill the gaps with a more accurate picture of their connection to slavery, others are finding the process of reconciliation a challenge.
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LibraryThing member janw
This collection of essays is probably more interesting to Texans. the compilation almost read like a single story. My favorite and perhaps the more universal was Gordon-Reed's story of starting school as the first only Black enrolled. Universal because it could have taken place anywhere in this
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country. The chapter devoted to the true history of the Alamo was quite enlightening. Good book but not quite as moving as: Between the World and Me.
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LibraryThing member Hccpsk
Historian and Harvard Law professor Gordon-Reed focuses on Texas in relation to slavery and her childhood there through this short book of essays. Gordon-Reed does an excellent job of finding universal themes while keeping the stories personal, and her writing skill makes this an enjoyably
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educational book.
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LibraryThing member mjspear
Collection of essays by Pulitzer Prize winning historian... brings personal perspective to American history and especially as a Black Texan. Objective, free of rancor or pity. A must-read for those looking to better under the Black experience in the USA.
LibraryThing member Elizabeth80
How to respond! I, too, am a Texan born in East Texas but transported at age 9 months to the El Paso area. Actually, my family (the three of us) lived in New Mexico for one or two years, then spent a year in Arizona returning to Anthony in early 1944. We lived on the New Mexico side of that
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village/town. Both of my parents were born and raised in East Texas with all the biases of white supremacy generated by their being raised on tenant farms (my mother) and having some land (90+ acres) near the Trinity River. By 1947 my parents had bought 5 acres of adobe soil between the Rio Grande and the Franklin Mountains so that they could raise their two daughters outside of the confines of village, town, city. From 2nd grade until I graduated high school, my family seemed to become more insular and disengaged from the 'outside' world. Annette Gordon - Reed recounts a far more involved family within the context of the larger society.
Gordon-Reed's book was used as a basis for discussion of Juneteenth on June 17, 2021 in a Zoom class. It coincided with Illinois making June 19 a state holiday and with President Biden signing the bill making it a national holiday. The book
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LibraryThing member jpe9
A most compelling combination of personal history with elements of Texas history that have often been de-emphasized or swept under the rug.

For me, the crux of the book is this:

I often encounter great hesitancy about, and impatience with, discussing race when talking about the American past. The
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obvious difficulty with those kinds of complaints is that people in the past—in the overall American context and in the specific context of Texas— talked a lot about, and did a lot about, race. Race is right there in the documents—official and personal. It would take a concerted effort not to consider and analyze the subject, and I realize that evasion is exactly what happened in many of the textbooks that Americans used in their school social studies and history classes. This, in part, accounts for the pained accusations about “revisionist” history when historians talk about things that people had never been made aware of in their history educations. (pp. 106-107)

I’ve lived most of my life in Rhode Island, and I don’t recall the Triangle Trade being mentioned in grade-school history. Its significance was only brought home to me recently when I watched Katrina Browne’s 2008 documentary Traces of the trade : a Story from the Deep North. Browne and members of her extended family tried to come to grips with the fact that they are descended from the largest slave-trading dynasty in U.S. history, the DeWolf family, who have had a lasting impact on economic and social life in Rhode Island from their heyday in the early nineteenth century to today.

Interviewees in the film said that truth and reconciliation commissions such as those instituted by Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and reparations, are needed in the U.S.

Cleared-eyed history is also needed. Thank you, Annette Gordon-Reed.
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LibraryThing member psalva
This extended essay is a mix of Texas history and memoir. As she writes in the “Coda,” Gordon-Reed tried to strike a balance between her love for Texas and its complicated and often controversial history. I think she succeeds and is equal parts critical and curious about the story of her home
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state as well as her family’s connections in Eastern Texas. I’m glad I picked this up.
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LibraryThing member GeauxGetLit
A quick eye opening audiobook that I was quite fortunate to have discovered.
LibraryThing member akblanchard
Historian Annette Gordon-Reed, a Black native of Texas, discusses her home state’s checkered history in this brief volume. Her focus is on the ongoing, complicated legacy of chattel slavery and its corrosive effect on Black-Indian-White relationships from early settlements to this day. Both
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family stories and official accounts inform her work.

The book contains less information on Juneteenth than the title implies, but it does reward the short time it takes to read it.
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Physical description

128 p.; 7.6 inches


1631498835 / 9781631498831
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