By Annette Gordon-Reed | Amazon.com | 152 pages
Published in May of 2021
SUMMARY: In a previously curated article Jemar Tisby aptly recommends that white and Black Americans should commemorate Juneteenth differently. One of the ways non-Black Americans can commemorate the holiday is to learn about the history of Black people in America. On Juneteenth consists of a collection of six engrossing essays interlacing author Annette Gordon-Reed‘s memories from growing up in Jim Crow Conroe, TX as the first Black student in her elementary school with the complexities of American history, specifically Texan history, replete with its myths, legends, and truths.
“The essays that follow do not strive to present a chronological narrative of the place where Juneteenth was born,” Gordon-Reed pens in the preface. “They are, instead, designed to provide a context for an event that has become increasingly important in the life of the American nation. It’s a look at history through the medium of personal memoir.”
From recalling what she learned about the Alamo in school to the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, TX Gordon-Reed identifies the Texan, and American, ethos of violence as a solution, a fierce loyalty to individual independence, and origin stories that promote American exceptionalism.
“Origin stories matter, for individuals, groups of people, and for nations,” Gordon-Reed writes. “They inform our sense of self; telling us what kind of people we believe we are, what kind of nation we believe in.”
Many of these formative origin stories are myths consisting of half-truths or outright lies. Therefore when individuals learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre or that America’s founding documents have racist language it can be disorienting. Some individuals dig in and learn, while others remain ignorant or “historyless,” as historian Robert Tracy McKenzie calls it. This “historyless,” for example, facilitates large swaths of the American population to advocate for the banning of books talking about slavery or racism despite American documents and history being dominated by talks about race.
“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. It isn’t some newly discovered fad topic. Race is right there in the documents—official and personal.”
“It would take a concerted effort not to consider and analyze the subject…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.”
And that is why it is important to read books like On Juneteenth – especially as Christians.
“As painful as it may be, recognizing —through not dwelling on—tragedy and the role it plays in our individual lives, and the life of a state or nation, is, I think, a sign of maturity.”
KEY QUOTE: “History is about people and events in a particular setting and context, and how those things have changed over time in ways that make the past different from our own time, with an understanding that those changes were not inevitable. Origin stories seek to find the familiar, or the superficially familiar—memory, sometimes shading into mythology.”
BONUS: Listen to Gordon-Reed talk about the history of Juneteenth and her book on Ben Franklin’s World podcast.
DID YOU KNOW? Sunday to Saturday has a Good Reads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.
WANT MORE? We have a learning capsule about Juneteenth with resources to help you faithfully learn about the holiday.
More curated resources on Juneteenth:
LEARNING CAPSULE: Juneteenth
What is Juneteenth? Why do we celebrate it? How should we celebrate it? After reading the following articles, listening to the podcast, and watching the show, you should understand what the holiday is and why we celebrate and/or commemorate it.
ARTICLE: Juneteenth – What Lies Beneath?
U.S. history professor at Bethel University John H. Haas suggests that Juneteenth is a time for Americans to reflect on how “how hard America has found it to live up to its own ideals” while pondering why America is the only nation that required a war, the bloodiest war in its history, to repeal slavery.
PODCAST: Juneteenth – Reflection on a National Holiday
In an informative and practical 40-minutes Jemar Tisby touches on three reasons why he advocated for Juneteenth to be a national holiday, discusses the historical origins and context of the holiday, lists some unintended consequences of making Juneteenth a federal holiday, and humbly suggests that Black and white people should celebrate the holiday differently.