A BIPOC Juneteenth * Black Lives* Reading List

At the moment when I needed it the most, I, as a Southeast Asian, Vietnamese single parent estranged and ostracized from my community, was welcomed into the heart and home of my adoptive mama, a Black Southern Debutante from San Antonio Texas who filled my days with tales of the struggles of her family and her community.

In this undated image, a Texas historical marker notes the place in Galveston, Texas, where Juneteenth got its start. (KPRC/File)

Mama was born in 1939 at the tail end of the Great Depression. She grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where, in the post Reconstruction era, African Americans had established Freedman settlements in every quadrant of the San Antonio. Many of these settlements are now gone, memorialized only by the existence of black cemeteries that serve as historical reminders of a rich and forgotten history.

Loil Ellison and Estella Ellison, and daughter Estella Mae Ellison stand in front of their house in East San Antonio in the 1930’s

As a high school student, she was a Freedom Rider joining the NAACP as a passenger on buses that challenged the non-enforcement of the Supreme Court decision, Morgan v. Virginia, that held that segregated public buses were unconstitutional.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Bowie Scholarship Foundation

I will always be grateful for the strength, love, and passion for justice that bonded my Mama and I. We were sisters, we were mother and daughter – spiritually connected and bonded for life.

In celebration of Juneteenth and in remembrance of my dear Mama who is with me everyday, I offer these books written by POC on my bookshelf for a close read about racism in America and uncensored history:

Books About Juneteenth:

Many of the books that focus on Juneteenth are written for younger audiences and are fiction as opposed to memoir or autobiographical. The history of Juneteenth itself, is often folded into broader books, seen below, which encompass a wider breadth of Black history and Black experiences.

Days of Jubilee by Patricia C. & Frederick L. McKissack – These authors who published over 100 children’s books retell the stories of slaves coming into freedom as the news of emancipation spread.

Freedom’s Gifts: A Juneteenth Story by Valerie Wesley – This fictional story follows Lillie, who celebrates the Fourth of July with no interest in Southern traditions learns the significance of Juneteenth through her great-great aunt, Aunt Marshall, who knows all to well the significance of Juneteenth.

Juneteenth: Freedom Day by Muriel Miller Branch – Branch tells the story of how Juneteenth began spontaneously on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, and grew from there into a nationwide celebration of freedom among African Americans.

All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis – Juneteenth is seen through the eyes of a little girl who experiences the day freedom finally came to the last of the slaves in the South.

Juneteenth by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Drew Nelson, illustrated by Mark Schroder – Tells the story of how the news came to African American slaves who were working in fields, barns, and homes of white people who owned them on the day that the news arrived.

Juneteenth Jamboree by Carole Boston Weatherford – through the eyes of Cassandra, this fictional story explains the celebration of Juneteenth.

Romantic Fiction:

The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology by Kianna Alexander, Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, and Piper Huguley – If you want something full of heart, these romance writers have come together to imagine love in the form of four novellas in the age of Juneteenth.

Books Analyzing Racism:

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates – The title reflects a phrase coined by Black Reconstruction era politicians who saw the backlash of white supremacists in the South after multi-racial policy reform. Coates pulls from essays published in The Atlantic and adds 8 new essays to this commentary on race relations in America.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin – this pivotal book offers an intimate examination by this iconoclastic author of his personal experiences of racism and the consequences of racial injustice. Baldwin’s voice was critical during the emergence of the civil rights movement and his words remain powerful today.

My Face is Black is True by Mary Frances Berry – Historian, Berry, tells the amazing story of ex-slave Callie House who demanded raparations for ex slaves 70 years before the Civil Rights Movement. House was a washerwoman and mother of five who fought for African American pensions mirroring that offered. to Union soldiers. She focused on an ask of $68 million in taxes on seized rebel cotton and demanded it as repayment for centuries of unpaid labor.

My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma by Resmaa Menakem MSW LICSW SEP – I included this book because I have a particular interest in the global trauma of racism. Racism is experienced mentally and physically. In particular, Menakem examines the damage caused by racism in America from the perspective of body-centered psychology. He argues that white supremacy and racism has long-lasting effects in all of our bodies and the only way to heal is to take a closer look at this.

Books Tracing History:

The Stony Road – Henry Louise Gates, Jr. traces the time period after the Civil War from the Reconstruction Era, Jim Crow, World Ware I, and the Harlem Renaissance. In doing so he uncovers the roots of structural racism and the efforts of Black Americans to force the nation to recognize their humanity and unique contributions to America.

Envisioning Emancipation by Deborah Willis – This beautiful visual history compiles 175 stunning historical photographs of enslaved people, of abolitionists, and of emancipated folks to see how people represented themselves as a free peoples. The photos are the earliest known photographs of African Americans from the 1850s and on. Images of Juneteenth celebrations are included.

Closer to Freedom by Stephanie Camp – this ground-breaking book focuses on the history of enslaved women’s efforts to escape their enslavement. “Emancipation” did not happen overnight. The four million African Americans who lived under slavery had to assert their freedom in millions of acts of self-assertion. Camp’s book is a beautiful, detailed, historical tribute to the efforts of Black women after emancipation.