What to Read, Watch, Listen to, and Learn from to Make the Most of Juneteenth
Here, a round-up of Black books, podcasts, films, and more to help you learn about this important (hopefully soon-federal!) holiday, Black lives, and help create change.
For far too long, the history of Juneteenth has been overshadowed by the Fourth of July. And while many of us grew up with fond memories of eating hotdogs, watching fireworks, and donning red, white, and blue to celebrate our nation's freedom, the truth is, every American wasn't exactly free (or even close to it) on July 4, 1776. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and author of the Declaration of Independence, owned 180 slaves at the time (enslaving over 600 Black people throughout his lifetime). Furthermore, slavery remained unabolished for another 87 years. Even then, it took two additional years for all slaves to eventually gain their freedom on June 19, 1865 - now known as Juneteenth.
First, a little history behind Juneteenth.
In 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that declared all "persons held as slaves" within the rebellious Confederate states "henceforward shall be free."
Ready to learn something that may have gone missing from your textbooks? While this was a monumental feat for Black people (the Proclamation meant freedom for over 3 million slaves), emancipation didn't apply to all slaves. It only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas under Union control.
Furthermore, the Texas Constitution of 1836 granted additional protection to slaveholders while further limiting the rights of slaves. With very little Union presence, many slave owners decided to move to Texas with their slaves, thus allowing slavery to continue.
However, on June 19, 1865, U.S. Army Officer and Union Major General, Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas announcing that all slaves were officially free - a change that impacted 250,000 Black lives forever.
Why We Celebrate Juneteenth (and Why You Should, Too)
Juneteenth, short for "June 19," commemorates the end of legal slavery in America and symbolizes the strength and resilience of Black Americans. And on June 15, 2021, the Senate passed a bill to make it a federal holiday - finally. . (FYI - legislation now has to go through the House of Representatives, so finger's crossed!) This celebration is not only tied to Black history, it's directly woven into the thread of American history. In the wake of today's civil unrest and heightened racial tensions, Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, or Jubliee Day, has naturally gained a bigger, even global spotlight - and befittingly so.
To help capture the true essence, significance, and history of Juneteenth, we've rounded up a list of podcasts, books, documentaries, movies, and TV shows for you to delve into - not just now in celebration of Juneteenth, but beyond the holiday. While this list of recommendations is by no means exhaustive, hopefully, it will empower you to learn more about the unsung stories of Black revolutions today, and every day, to uplift Black voices and demand equality for all.
What to Listen To
Louder Than a Riot
Hosted by Sidney Madden and Rodney Carmichael, Louder Than A Riot explores the intersection between the rise of hip hop and mass incarceration in America. Each episode zeroes in on an artist's story to examine different aspects of the criminal justice system that disproportionately affects Black Americas and, in doing so, reshapes negative narratives about hip hop and its ties to the Black community. (ICYDK, Black people are incarcerated at over five times the rate of their white counterparts, according to the NAACP.) This podcast uses a genre of music that has been adored by people of various backgrounds to expose what many Black Americans have seen played out time and again with police brutality, discriminative legal tactics, and demeaning media depictions. You can check out Louder Than A Riot on NPR One, Apple, Spotify, and Google.
Conceived and produced by a team of Black creatives, NATAL, a podcast docuseries, uses first-person testimonials to empower and educate Black pregnant and birthing parents. Executive producers and hosts Gabrielle Horton and Martina Abrahams Ilunga use NATAL to "pass the mic to Black parents to tell their stories about pregnancy, birthing, and postpartum care, in their own words." The docuseries, which debuted during April 2020's Black Maternal Health Week, also highlights birth workers, medical professionals, researchers, and advocates fighting daily for better care for Black birthing parents. Considering the fact that Black women are three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications, NATAL is a critical resource to Black mothers and mothers-to-be everywhere. Listen to Natal on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google, and everywhere podcasts are available.
Also tune in to:
What to Read for Fiction
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Named one of Time's 100 best books of 2019, Candice Carty-Williams' fearless debut follows Queenie Jenkins, a Jamaican-British woman trying to balance between two completely different cultures while not really fitting into either. At her job as a newspaper reporter, she's constantly forced to compare herself to her white peers. Amid the craziness of her day-to-day, her longtime white boyfriend decides to ask for a "break". In an attempt to rebound from her messy breakup, the 25-year-old journalist careens from one questionable decision to another, all while trying to figure out her purpose in life - a question most of us can relate to. The tell-it-like-it-is novel encapsulates what it means to be a Black girl existing in mostly white spaces, whose world also happens to be falling apart. Although the smart, yet sensitive protagonist struggles with mental health, internalized racism, and workplace bias, she eventually finds the strength to put it all back together - a true, Black queen! (Related: How Racism Affects Your Mental Health)
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
A book club favorite, The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson, tells the story of engineer Ruth Tuttle and her journey to reconcile a shame-filled past riddled with secrets in an effort to start a family of her own. Set during the Great Recession and the beginning of a new era of hope following President Obama's first presidential win, this novel comments on race, class, and family dynamics. While her husband's eager to begin a family, Ruth is uncertain; she's still haunted by the decision she made as a teenager to leave her son behind. And so, she returns to her estranged family in the recession-stricken town in Ganton, Indiana to make peace with her past - a process that ultimately forces her to grapple with her own demons, discover long-hidden lies amongst her family, and face the racially charged town she escaped years ago. The Kindest Lie is a compelling embodiment of the nuances of growing up in a Black, working-class family in America and the intricate connections between race and class.
Here are a few more intriguing reads to grab:
- Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison
- Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
What to Read for Nonfiction
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
A New York Times bestseller (it spent nearly 250 weeks on the paper's bestseller list!), The New Jim Crow explores race-related issues specific to Black men and mass incarceration in the United States and explains how the nation's criminal justice system works against Black people. Author, civil rights litigator, and legal scholar Michelle Alexander demonstrates that, by targeting Black men through the "War on Drugs" and destroying communities of color, America's justice system serves as a present-day system of racial control (the new Jim Crow, if you will)-even as it adheres to the belief of colorblindness. First published in 2010, The New Jim Crow has been cited in judicial decisions and has been adopted in campus-wide and community-wide reads. (See also: Tools to Help You Uncover Implicit Bias - Plus, What That Actually Means)
The First Next Time by James Baldwin
Written by the esteemed writer, poet, and activist, James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time is a poignant evaluation of race relations in America during the mid 20th century. A national bestseller when it was first released in 1963, the book consists of two "letters" (essentially essays) that share Baldwin's views on the poor conditions of Black Americans. The first letter is a strikingly honest yet compassionate warning to his young nephew on the perils of being Black in America and the "twisted logic of racism." The second and most noteworthy letter is written to all Americans. It delivers a dire warning of the disastrous effects of racism in America - and so much of it, very unfortunately, rings true today. Baldwin's writing does not shy away from any of the ugly truths about the Black plight. It holds each of its readers accountable through self-examination and a call for forwarding progress. (Related: Tools to Help You Uncover Implicit Bias - Plus, What That Actually Means)
Go ahead and add these to your cart as well:
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
- Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
- Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
- Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor
- Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Renni Edo-Lodge
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Fire Shut Up In My Bones by Charles Blow
What to Watch
Becoming, the Netflix documentary based in-part on Michelle Obama's bestselling memoir, shares an intimate look into the former First Lady's life before and after her eight years in the White House. It takes viewers behind the scenes of her book tour and offers a glance at her relationship with hubby, former President Barack Obama, and captures candid moments with daughters, Malia and Sasha. Our country's first Black FLOTUS, Michelle inspired women of all backgrounds with her beautiful brilliance, courageous tenacity, and contagious positivity (not to mention her iconic looks and killer arms). The Becoming doc gracefully illustrates her story of hard work, determination, and triumph - a motivational must-see for all.
Two Distant Strangers
The Academy Award-winning short film is a must-watch for, well, everyone. And being that it's a Netflix original (so easily accessible on the streaming service) and just 30-minutes long, there's truly no excuse not to add Two Distant Strangers to your queue. The flick follows the main character as he endures an annoyingly tragic encounter with a white police officer over and over again in a time loop. Despite its heavy topic, Two Distant Strangers remains lighthearted and inspiring all while allowing audiences an inside look at what the world looks like for many Black Americans every day - which is especially important in light of the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Flloyd, and Rayshard Brooks in 2020. Two Distant Strangers finds itself right at the intersection of the hard truths of the present and a hopeful resolve for the future. (Related: How Defunding the Police Protects Black Women)
Additional binge-worthy watches:
Who to Follow
Alicia Garza is an Oakland-based organizer, writer, public speaker, and the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. But Garza's already-impressive resume does not stop there: She is most notably known for co-founding the international Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Casual. Since the rise of BLM, she has become a powerful voice in the media. Follow Garza to learn more about her work to end police brutality and violence against trans and gender non-conforming people of color. Do you hear that? That's Garza's many calls-to-action to help put an end to our nation's legacy of racism and discrimination. Listen and then join. (Related: Powerful Moments of Peace, Unity, and Hope from Black Lives Matter Protests)
Opal Tometi is an American human rights activist, organizer, and writer who is most known for her role in co-founding the Black Lives Matter movement (along with Garza) and as the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (the U.S. first national immigrant rights organization for people of Africa descent). Pretty impressive, right? The award-winning activist uses her voice and extensive reach to advocate for human rights across the globe and to educate people on such matters. Follow Tometi for a measured mixture of call-to-action activism and Black girl magic - both of which will get you out of your chair and eager to join her in bettering the world.
Keep up with these Black bosses, too:
- Brittany Packnett Cunningham
- Marc Lamont Hill
- Tarana Burke
- Van Jones
- Ava DuVernay
- Rachel Elizabeth Cargle (aka the mastermind behind The Loveland Foundation - a key mental health resource for Black women)
- Blair Amadeus Imani
- Alison Désir (See also: Alison Désir On the Expectations of Pregnancy and New Motherhood Vs. Reality)
- Cleo Wade
- Austin Channing Brown