Juneteenth: A Reading List

Shayna Staff Image

Juneteenth, a combination of June and the 19th, is an African-American holiday that reflects the day June 19th, 1865. On this day, the last of the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were told by Union soldiers that they were free, two years following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. This day is widely considered to be African-Americans’ Independence Day as communities come together to celebrate their cultural heritage and the symbolic day of freedom for the Black community. Here is a small selection of titles to read when reflecting on Juneteenth that can be found through our Overdrive and Hoopla digital services.

If you are new to our eResources, view our tutorial videos on how to get started. In addition to our online collection of eBooks and eAudiobooks, we also have tons of reference research databases available, including the African American Experience database free to use with your Allegheny County library card. Don’t have a library card? Sign up for one online for free here. If you enjoy this book list and would like to get more recommendation tailored to your interests, fill out our Book Recommendation form and a librarian will curate a list for you!

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States. You can also check out this title as eAudibook on Hoopla, as eBook on Hoopla, as eAudiobook on Overdrive/Libby, and as eBook on Overdrive/Libby.

Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires

The untold history of America’s first black millionaires, former slaves who endured incredible challenges to amass and maintain their wealth for a century from the Jacksonian period to the Roaring Twenties, self-made entrepreneurs whose unknown success mirrored that of American business heroes. Between the years of 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery was reaching maturity, a small group of smart, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success. You can also check out this title as eAudiobook on Hoopla, as eBook on Hoopla, as eAudiobook on Overdrive/Libby, and as eBook on Overdrive/Libby.

Black Skin, White Masks

A major influence on civil rights, anti-colonial, and black consciousness movements around the world, Black Skin, White Masks is the unsurpassed study of the black psyche in a white world. Hailed for its scientific analysis and poetic grace when it was first published in 1952, the book remains a vital force today. You can also check out this title as eBook on Hoopla and as eBook on Overdrive/Libby.

The Fire Next Time

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 from the iconic author. 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. You can also check out this title as eAudiobook on Hoopla and as eBook on Overdrive/Libby.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

One of the most memorable slave narratives, Harriet Jacobs illustrates the overarching evil and pervasive depravity of the institution of slavery. In great and painful detail, Jacobs describes her life as a Southern slave, the exploitation that haunted her daily life, her abuse by her master, the involvement she sought with another white man in order to escape her master, and her determination to win freedom for herself and her children. You can also check out this title as eBook on Overdrive/Libby.

The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

Raised as a plantation slave, Douglass went on to become a writer, orator, and major participant in the struggle for African-American freedom and equality. In this engrossing narrative he recounts early years of abuse; his dramatic escape to the North and eventual freedom, abolitionist campaigns, and his crusade for full civil rights for former slaves. You can also check out this title as eAudiobook on Hoopla and as eBook on Hoopla.

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

From the era of slavery to the present day, the first full history of black America’s shocking mistreatment as unwilling and unwitting experimental subjects at the hands of the medical establishment. Medical Apartheid is the first and only comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. You can also check out this title as eAudiobook on Hoopla, as eAudiobook on Overdrive/Libby, and as eBook on Overdrive/Libby.

The Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave

An influential force in the abolition movement and a lasting testimonial to the injustice of slavery, Brown’s Narrative was an instant bestseller upon its 1847 publication and remains essential reading. It offers a sincere and moving account of the author’s experiences during the first 20 years of his life as a slave in Missouri. You can also check out this title as eBook on Hoopla.

Negroland: A Memoir

At once incendiary and icy, mischievous, and provocative, celebratory and elegiac, a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, and American culture through the prism of the author’s rarefied upbringing and education among a black elite concerned to distance itself from whites and the black generality, while tirelessly measuring itself against both. Born in 1947 in upper-crust black Chicago–her father was for years head of pediatrics at Provident, at the time the nation’s oldest black hospital; her mother was a socialite–Margo Jefferson has spent most of her life among (call them what you will) the colored aristocracy, the colored elite, the blue-vein society. Since the nineteenth century they have stood apart, these inhabitants of Negroland, “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.” This title is also available on Overdrive/Libby as an eBook, on Overdrive/Libby as an eAudiobook, or on Hoopla as an eAudiobook.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family

One of the most important books and television series ever to appear, “Roots,” galvanized the nation, and created an extraordinary political, racial, social and cultural dialogue that hadn’t been seen since the publication of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Over the years, both “Roots” and Alex Haley have attracted controversy, which comes with the territory for trailblazing, iconic books, particularly on the topic of race. Some of the criticism results from whether “Roots” is fact or fiction and whether Alex Haley confused these two issues, a subject he addresses directly in the book. There is also the fact that Haley was sued for plagiarism when it was discovered that several dozen paragraphs in Roots were taken directly from a novel, “The African,” by Harold Courlander, who ultimately received a substantial financial settlement at the end of the case. But none of the controversy affects the basic issue. “Roots” fostered a remarkable dialogue about not just the past, but the then present day 1970s and how America had fared since the days portrayed in “Roots.” This title is also available as an eBook on Overdrive/Libby, as an eAudiobook on Overdrive/Libby, or as an eAudiobook on Hoopla.

The Souls of Black Folks

Published in 1903, exactly forty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, W.E.B. Du Bois’s “The Souls of Black Folk” fell into the hands of an American nation that had still not yet found “peace from its sins.” With such deep disappointment among African-Americans still awaiting full emancipation, Du Bois believed that the moderate and conciliatory efforts of civil-rights leader Booker T. Washington could only go so far. Taking to the page, Du Bois produced a resounding declaration on the rights of the American man and laid out an agenda that was at the time radical but has since proven prophetic. In fourteen chapters that move fluidly between historical and sociological essays, song and poetry, personal recollection and fiction, The Souls of Black Folk frames “the color line” as the central problem of the twentieth century and tries to answer the question, “Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?” This title is also available as an eBook on Hoopla, an eAudiobook on Hoopla, and an eBook on Overdrive.

They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South

Historian Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers draws on a variety of sources to show that slave‑owning women were sophisticated economic actors who directly engaged in and benefited from the South’s slave market. Not only did white women often refuse to cede ownership of their slaves to their husbands, they employed management techniques that were as effective and brutal as those used by slave‑owning men. By examining the economically entangled lives of enslaved people and slave‑owning women, Jones-Rogers presents a narrative that forces us to rethink the economics and social conventions of slaveholding America. This title is also available as an eBook on Overdrive/Libby or as an eAudiobook on Hoopla.

Twelve Years A Slave

Perhaps the best written of all the slave narratives, Twelve Years a Slave  is a harrowing memoir about one of the darkest periods in American history. It recounts how Solomon Northup, born a free man in New York, was lured to Washington, D.C., in 1841 with the promise of fast money, then drugged and beaten and sold into slavery. He spent the next twelve years of his life in captivity on a Louisiana cotton plantation. This title is also available as an eBook on Hoopla, an eAudiobook on Hoopla, an eBook on Libby/Overdrive, or an eAudiobook on Libby/Overdrive.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic story of America's Great Migration

In this beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves. This title is also available as an eBook on Libby/Overdrive.