Juneteenth — Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Cel-Liberation Day — whatever you like to call it, commemorates June 19, 1865, when the last remaining enslaved African-Americans were emancipated. For anyone trying to do the math in their head, yes, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863, but due to a minimal presence of Union troops and the remote location of Texas, it wasn’t until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston nearly two and a half years later that the enslaved people in the farthest areas of the country learned they were free.1

As we celebrate 155 years without slavery in this country, it is important that we reflect on not only how far we’ve come with respect to Civil and Human rights, but also on the work we still have left to do — the changes we are still fighting for with movements like Black Lives Matter.

So, as you’re following the news, consuming books and films to educate yourself on anti-racism and taking time to examine our nation’s past in the hopes of creating a better future, I’d like to offer one other title for your consideration.

Juneteenth (Vintage Books) by Ralph Ellison was published posthumously and edited by John F. Callahan, the literary executor of Ellison’s estate. In the book’s preface, Charles Johnson posits that this project honors and explores “the lives of black Americans who, from the nation’s founding to the 1950s, and despite the burden of racial oppression, embod[y] our Republic’s loftiest ideals.”

The Star-Ledger praises Ellison’s work as a “sublime intellectual approach to the visceral issues eating at America’s heart.” And although this is by no means the only book to explore racial issues or the experience of Black folk in the United States, how appropriate it is to recognize Ellison’s contribution to the movement with a book that shares a name with this holiday.

Learn more about Juneteenth and access the reader’s guide here.


1 “History of Juneteenth,” Juneteenth.com

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About Ralph Ellison:

Ralph Ellison (1914–1994) was born in Oklahoma and trained as a musician at Tuskegee Institute from 1933 to 1936, at which time a visit to New York and a meeting with Richard Wright led to his first attempts at fiction. Invisible Man won the National Book Award. Appointed to the Academy of American Arts and Letters in 1964, Ellison taught at several institutions, including Bard College, the University of Chicago and New York University, where he was Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities.