Honor Juneteenth with These Fiction & Non-Fiction Books

In 2021, at least partially due to the reckonings of the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprisings, the United States recognized Juneteenth as a national holiday. While this holiday may be new to some people, many Black Americans have been celebrating this day commemorating emancipation for centuries, and there is a wealth of writing on its history and significance. With this in mind, though Juneteenth may have passed on Monday, it’s always the right time to educate ourselves on the history of race and racism in this country. The following variety of fiction and nonfiction books inform about the history of the Juneteenth holiday and the realities of slavery and Reconstruction in the South. Some books on this list, such as Kindred by Octavia Butler, are fiction books that explore the atrocities of enslavement through characters who experience it directly, while non-fiction books such as James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time reflect on the state of racism since emancipation. So take some time to honor Juneteenth and read any of these books online now!


  • On Juneteenth [AUDIO] - Annette Gordon-Reed. “Weaving together American history, dramatic family chronicle, and searing episodes of memoir, Annette Gordon-Reed’s On Juneteenth provides a historian’s view of the country’s long road to Juneteenth, recounting both its origins in Texas and the enormous hardships that African-Americans have endured in the century since, from Reconstruction through Jim Crow and beyond.”
  • Juneteenth: The Story Behind the Celebration - Edward Cotham. “This is the first scholarly book to delve into the history behind Juneteenth. Using decades of research in archives around the nation, this book helps separate myth from reality and tells the story behind the celebration in a way that provides new understanding and appreciation for the event.”
  • Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African- American Folklore - Francis Edward Abernethy, Patrick B. Mullen, Alan B. Govenar (eds). “Juneteenth Texas explores African-American folkways and traditions….Included are descriptions and classifications of different aspects of African-American folk culture in Texas; explorations of songs and stories and specific performers...and a section giving resources for the further study of African Americans in Texas.”
  • To 'Joy My Freedom : Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War - Tera W. Hunter. “Hunter weaves a rich and diverse tapestry of the culture and experience of black women workers in the post–Civil War south. Through anecdote and data, analysis and interpretation, she manages to penetrate African-American life and labor and to reveal the centrality of women at the inception―and at the heart―of the new south.”
  • The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story - Nikole Hannah-Jones. “This book that speaks directly to our current moment, contextualizing the systems of race and caste within which we operate today. It reveals long-glossed-over truths around our nation’s founding and construction—and the way that the legacy of slavery did not end with emancipation, but continues to shape contemporary American life.”
  • From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century - William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen. “This compelling and sharply argued book addresses economic injustices head-on and make the most comprehensive case to date for economic reparations for U.S. descendants of slavery….[the authors] assess the literal and figurative costs of justice denied in the 155 years since the end of the Civil War and offer a detailed roadmap for an effective reparations program.”
  • The Fire Next Time - James Baldwin. “At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin's early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document….It consists of two "letters," written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.”


  • Beloved - Toni Morrison. “Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. Sethe has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.”
  • Kindred - Octavia E. Butler. “Dana’s torment begins when she suddenly vanishes on her 26th birthday from California, 1976, and is dragged through time to antebellum Maryland to rescue a boy named Rufus, heir to a slaveowner’s plantation….As she endures the traumas of slavery and the soul-crushing normalization of savagery, Dana fights to keep her autonomy and return to the present.”
  • The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead. “In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil….[it] is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.”
  • The Prophets [AUDIO] - Robert Jones, Jr. “A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence….The Prophets fearlessly reveals the pain and suffering of inheritance, but is also shot through with hope, beauty, and truth, portraying the enormous, heroic power of love.”