I first heard of Juneteenth in 2015, when I was working at a YMCA that served one of the most racially diverse zip codes in Washington state—and one of its most impoverished. I couldn’t believe that I had lived in this country for twenty-five years and never known the full story of how the institution of slavery finally came to an end.
On June 19, 1865, two months after the conclusion of the Civil War, Union troops marched into Galveston, Texas and issued a decree that all slaves were free. It was a momentous, arriving two years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery did not end that day (in fact, it persisted in the so-called Indian Territories until at least 1866), but it was a turning point and cause for celebration in the Black community, becoming the root of the holiday we know today.
I am ashamed that I didn’t know this history. But it should not be surprising, since I grew up and was educated in a country that is in many ways still reeling from the fallout of that war and still fighting over its legacy. Black people did not automatically achieve equality with whites on that hot, humid summer’s day in Texas. That struggle continues. But I am heartened to see Black artists starting to get the recognition they deserve and Black businesses thriving. That is cause for celebration, even though we have a long way to go to atone for the sins of America’s past.
On this Juneteenth, I’m reminded that I have much to learn. The more I listen to and read narratives by people who don’t look like me, the better off I am as a person.
A few years ago, I made a conscious decision to try to decolonize my reading list, to deliberately seek out books by women and people of color before I reach for books written by white men. It has been an incredibly humbling and enriching experience.
I’ve recently been on a speculative fiction kick, including Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and N.K. Jemisin’s How Long ‘Til Black Future Month, and I’m looking forward to diving into the works of Nnendi Okorafor, P. Djèlí Clark, Tade Thompson, and others—especially stories that imagine a better future for historically oppressed communities.
What other books or authors should be on my reading list? Shout out your recommendations in the comments and happy Juneteenth!
Jonny Eberle is a writer and podcaster in Tacoma, WA. His work has appeared in Creative Colloquy, Grit City Magazine, and All Worlds Wayfarer. You can follow him on Twitter, join his mailing list, and listen to his audio drama, The Adventures of Captain Radio, wherever you enjoy podcasts.