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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. All 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. All too aware of the stories of cowboys, ranchers, and oilmen that have long dominated the lore of the Lone Star State, Gordon-Reed—herself a Texas native and the descendant of enslaved people brought to Texas as early as the 1820s—forges a new and profoundly truthful narrative of her home state, with implications for us all. Combining personal anecdotes with poignant facts gleaned from the annals of American history, Gordon-Reed shows how, from the earliest presence of Black people in Texas to the day in Galveston on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in the state, African-Americans played an integral role in the Texas story. Reworking the traditional “Alamo” framework, she powerfully demonstrates, among other things, that the slave- and race-based economy not only defined the fractious era of Texas independence but precipitated the Mexican-American War and, indeed, the Civil War itself. In its concision, eloquence, and clear presentation of history, On Juneteenth vitally revises conventional renderings of Texas and national history. As our nation verges on recognizing June 19 as a national holiday, On Juneteenth is both an essential account and a stark reminder that the fight for equality is exigent and ongoing.


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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. All 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. All too aware of the stories of cowboys, ranchers, and oilmen that have long dominated the lore of the Lone Star State, Gordon-Reed—herself a Texas native and the descendant of enslaved people brought to Texas as early as the 1820s—forges a new and profoundly truthful narrative of her home state, with implications for us all. Combining personal anecdotes with poignant facts gleaned from the annals of American history, Gordon-Reed shows how, from the earliest presence of Black people in Texas to the day in Galveston on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in the state, African-Americans played an integral role in the Texas story. Reworking the traditional “Alamo” framework, she powerfully demonstrates, among other things, that the slave- and race-based economy not only defined the fractious era of Texas independence but precipitated the Mexican-American War and, indeed, the Civil War itself. In its concision, eloquence, and clear presentation of history, On Juneteenth vitally revises conventional renderings of Texas and national history. As our nation verges on recognizing June 19 as a national holiday, On Juneteenth is both an essential account and a stark reminder that the fight for equality is exigent and ongoing.

30 review for On Juneteenth

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Gordon-Reed is a proud Texan! But that does not mean that she applauds Texas’ treatment of people of color, particularly in the years before Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865. In a series of short essays, she points out that Texas IS unique. “No other state brings together so many disparate and defining characteristics all in one—a state that shares a border with a foreign nation, a state with a long history of disputes between Europeans an Gordon-Reed is a proud Texan! But that does not mean that she applauds Texas’ treatment of people of color, particularly in the years before Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865. In a series of short essays, she points out that Texas IS unique. “No other state brings together so many disparate and defining characteristics all in one—a state that shares a border with a foreign nation, a state with a long history of disputes between Europeans and an Indigenous population and between Anglo-Europeans and people of Spanish origin, a state that had existed as an independent nation, that had plantation-based slavery and legalized Jim Crow.” Gordon-Reed recounts her life experiences where the lofty idealism stated in the Declaration of Independence fell away in the day-to-day interactions she knew growing up in Conroe, Texas. She revisits these experiences and highlights the fallibility of people in the past and present. She believes that they need to be addressed in order to move forward. Recommend.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Anderson

    Jump on this, friends. It’s a short collection of essays that connect author Annette Gordon-Reed’s childhood and family roots in East Texas to the region’s history and myths about that history. Gordon-Reed is one of the most brilliant historians ever….. AND she is a terrific writer! That is a rare combination. Seriously- buy this book, read it, then buy copies for your friends so you can talk about it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bethany

    On Juneteenth is a fantastic little book that provides not only a history of the Juneteenth holiday, but also history of Texas and their treatment of Black and Indigenous folks in the past, plus stories and insights from the author's own experiences growing up in Texas. If you're looking for an accessible history lesson that won't take you long to read but will pack a punch and leave you thinking about the legacy of that history into the present day, this is a great option. And the audio narrati On Juneteenth is a fantastic little book that provides not only a history of the Juneteenth holiday, but also history of Texas and their treatment of Black and Indigenous folks in the past, plus stories and insights from the author's own experiences growing up in Texas. If you're looking for an accessible history lesson that won't take you long to read but will pack a punch and leave you thinking about the legacy of that history into the present day, this is a great option. And the audio narration is lovely! I received an audio review copy of this book from Libro.FM. All opinions are my own.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Katz

    3.5 Don't take this rating as my being critical of the work. It's very good and very informative, but it is a minor work by an esteemed historian -- a collection of essays, really. The basic question that frames the book is, how she, both as a Black woman and as a historian, can claim that she loves Texas given its racist history. Her answer takes her in a couple of directions: exploring the real history of Texas and how that history is -- and has been -- taught (her discussion of the Alamo is i 3.5 Don't take this rating as my being critical of the work. It's very good and very informative, but it is a minor work by an esteemed historian -- a collection of essays, really. The basic question that frames the book is, how she, both as a Black woman and as a historian, can claim that she loves Texas given its racist history. Her answer takes her in a couple of directions: exploring the real history of Texas and how that history is -- and has been -- taught (her discussion of the Alamo is itself worth the price of admission); illuminating the history of African Americans in Texas from before it was a republic, through its admission into the United States, up to today; sharing her own experiences growing up Black in Texas; and providing insight into the roles history and narrative play in how Texans see their state. I enjoyed listening to it, learned a lot, and felt that I had spent in the company of a very smart, knowledgeable, candid, and gracious individual. It was definitely time well spent. I have no reservations at all about recommending the book. Update: Regarding my comment about the Alamo -- I hadn't been aware that Jim Bowie was a slave trader; or that James Travis was in "Texas" (it didn't exist yet) because he had abandoned his wife and children (and a lot of debt) in Alabama and had a warrant out for his arrest; or that Santa Ana wanted to abolish slavery, a position that generated strong opposition among White American settlers; or that Texas barred free Blacks from entering the state; and that all of this has been ignored in the Texas history curriculum. I bring it up now in this postscript because as I write this there is an effort by the Texas state legislature to gloss over the state's racist past. This is from the May 5 issue of The Texas Tribune: Mirroring moves by other red-state legislatures across the country, Texas Republicans are attempting to reach into classrooms and limit what public school students are taught about the nation's historical subjugation of people of color. Sometimes it's nearly impossible to feel any sense of optimism at all for the country's future.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mia

    As someone who only just found out about Juneteenth last year, this book was very informative not only when it comes to facts but also the living and recounted experiences of the author, her family, and community. Highly recommend everyone to pick it up! a huge thank you to Libro FM, Annette Gordon-Reed, and Recorded Books for an ALC of this book

  6. 4 out of 5

    Megan Tristao

    In the coda, the author describes On Juneteenth as "this brief sketch of the history of Texas, told through vignettes of my family," and I think that sums this up perfectly. The final chapter discusses the history of Juneteenth specifically, while the preceding chapters cover various topics in race relations throughout Texas history. All the chapters also include memoir and family history. Thanks to Libro.fm and the publisher for a free advance listening copy. (Once I saw it was narrated by Karen In the coda, the author describes On Juneteenth as "this brief sketch of the history of Texas, told through vignettes of my family," and I think that sums this up perfectly. The final chapter discusses the history of Juneteenth specifically, while the preceding chapters cover various topics in race relations throughout Texas history. All the chapters also include memoir and family history. Thanks to Libro.fm and the publisher for a free advance listening copy. (Once I saw it was narrated by Karen Chilton, I knew I had to listen to it!) P.S. - This audiobook isn't long (not even four hours), but for a pretty good abbreviated version, this interview on Fresh Air covered many of the main parts and interesting stories.

  7. 5 out of 5

    BookBully

    4.5;stars for the latest from Gordon-Reed. My main complaint is that the book was too short. I appreciate her scholarship and how well she weaves them into her memories of growing up in Texas. The author and I are “of an age” so I was delighted with many of those memories. I had not thought of “Billie Jack” in eons.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Russell Fox

    I picked up this tiny collection of essays (five essays with an introduction and a coda, spread out over 135 pocket-size pages), thinking that I would learn something about the holiday Juneteenth, trusting that the author, a nationally-recognized historian of African-American history, would be able to educate me about its cultural roots. By the time I finished the book late that same night, I had in fact been educated about Juneteenth--but that was almost incidental to the real accomplishment of I picked up this tiny collection of essays (five essays with an introduction and a coda, spread out over 135 pocket-size pages), thinking that I would learn something about the holiday Juneteenth, trusting that the author, a nationally-recognized historian of African-American history, would be able to educate me about its cultural roots. By the time I finished the book late that same night, I had in fact been educated about Juneteenth--but that was almost incidental to the real accomplishment of this collection, as the essay actually titled "On Juneteenth" is the last and the slightest contribution in the whole book, and most of what Gordon-Reed has to say about the holiday (aside from some eye-opening historical observations about its origin) revolved around her own family's celebration of it while growing up. No, the real accomplishment of these essays--which really ought to be title "On Texas," or something like that--was to effectively, and succinctly, bring me into a world I'd never thought about before. Annette Gordan-Reed was a Black girl growing up in Conroe, TX, in the 1960s; as the first African-American child to integrate the local White elementary school, she had a small amount of fame, which, from the perspective of decades of time and much academic learning later, could have been easily made into a foundation for some deep, critical, reflections on Texas culture and politics and history. But instead, while the observations on Texas culture, politics, and history are absolutely present, they come through a re-created young person's perspective, or perhaps simply a perspective that Gordon-Reed, despite her age and education, has never entirely forgotten. She was confused by the way her parents and other Black people responded--often negatively--to her breaking away from their prized, insulated Black world, and entering into an integrated White one. She was fascinated by the fact that White people could be her friends one moment but the next minute would spout racist accusations or assumptions that she could see had no grounding in their or anyone's actual lived experience; rather, it was a received inheritance, perhaps structurally no different psychologically from her own. Through it all, she was, and remains, a devout Texas partisan: apparently, a Black girl born in the 1950s can also love Six Flags Over Texas, and the movie Billy Jack, and buying trinkets at the Indian reservation near her hometown, and above all, the Alamo. In these essays she artfully brings her youthful impressions of all of this and more into connection with some deep (and, to me, completely unknown) history--about Native American participation in the slave trade, about the French influence in East Texas, about the unique aspects of the Texas's involvement with the Confederacy and the Civil War and what came afterward, and so much more. The result is a massive education--in ideological perspective as well as historical information--in a very short book. The bit about Juneteenth is just the icing on the cake. I'll never be a Texan, but I know a few, and I'm going to recommend this book to all of them. As an ethnographic study as well as a collection of delightful (and, in a few cases, racistly horrifying) memories, it's a great little accomplishment.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Shannon Hunt

    Whew...those 4th grade and 7th grade Texas History classes I went through missed a few things. Shocking! Definitely want to listen to this again on a less busy week to internalize the history more deeply or read more thorough histories.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    A wonderful, compelling, and deeply intelligent mixture of history, essay, and memoir. Gordon-Reed uses her own life experiences and those of her family as a lens to examine Texas history and the origins and legacy of the Juneteenth holiday. Highly recommended.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Marc-Antoine Serou

    I was a little disappointed by the fact very little in the book is actually about Juneteenth and its history. Still a good book about Texas, the author and her family.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Trevor Seigler

    Juneteenth sprang to public attention last year when former president Trump tried to hold a rally in Tulsa on that date. Seen by many as a calculated slap in the face of Black Americans on Trump's part (Juneteenth was the day when, on June 19, 1865, the order to free slaves was read aloud in Galveston, Texas, thus bringing the process begun by the Emancipation Proclamation to its conclusion; Tulsa was the scene of a devastating orchestrated attack on the thriving Black business district there by Juneteenth sprang to public attention last year when former president Trump tried to hold a rally in Tulsa on that date. Seen by many as a calculated slap in the face of Black Americans on Trump's part (Juneteenth was the day when, on June 19, 1865, the order to free slaves was read aloud in Galveston, Texas, thus bringing the process begun by the Emancipation Proclamation to its conclusion; Tulsa was the scene of a devastating orchestrated attack on the thriving Black business district there by white residents resentful of such economic success on the Black populations' part, in 1921). The rally didn't happen, but a lot of white people were left wondering what exactly Juneteenth was. It had long been a holiday in Black America, but a lot of white people were clueless about its meaning how exactly it became a thing. Annette Gordon-Reed's short book "On Juneteenth" not only strives to answer that question, but to show the ways in which Texas was a harbinger of and litmus test of America's continuing struggle with how to define itself in terms of how it treats Black people and other marginalized communities. Fair to say that Texas, once the largest state in the union in terms of size, is often the place where a lot of what America thinks about itself plays out. Gordon-Reed, a native Texan, uses the premise of discussing the events of June 19, 1865, to show how the myth of Texas as "wild west" is just that; there's more than a little civilization in Texas that doesn't involve cattle drives or bandits shooting each other in the street. Texas came into its own after white settlers decided to to resist Mexican efforts to end slavery or make it more difficult for slaveowners to bring their human property over the border from the United States (as Texas was part of the Mexican nation at the time, and had previously been Spanish before Mexico gained its independence). The Texas Revolution, best remembered for the last stand at the Alamo, was fought for less-than-noble reasons on the part of many participants (a notion which shouldn't be surprising to anyone familiar with actual history, and not the crap in textbooks). Gordon-Reed, who became a small part of the Civil Rights Movement herself when her parents sent her to a formerly all-white elementary school in an effort to test Texas' unwillingness to abide by "Brown Vs. Board of Education," draws from her own family history to render the store of Black Texans as something more than an enslavement narrative. The book ultimately is as much about her family as it is about her state and its complicated history regarding race. The essays here can be read as parts of a whole or on their own, and each highlights the ways in which Texas stands in for the rest of the country in aspects like the suppression of Indigenous peoples or the ways in which Black people weren't expected to be able to speak beyond a crude, stereotypical dialect that showed lack of education (whites would be incredulous if a Black person could speak "proper English," because they didn't think Black people had the capacity to understand complicated thought). This short book is a very good way to talk about a lot of things, not just the topic of Juneteenth.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    This is a very short book by a very famous historian, Annette Gordon-Reed, whose work on Thomas Jefferson and the enslaved Hemings family earned her a Pulitzer Prize. "On Juneteenth," however, is not an in-depth or scholarly history. Instead, it is a personal reflection on what it means for Gordon-Reed to be a Black Texan and what Texas means in African-American (and therefore American) history. She argues that, although Texas likes to think of itself as exceptional and separate, it is actually This is a very short book by a very famous historian, Annette Gordon-Reed, whose work on Thomas Jefferson and the enslaved Hemings family earned her a Pulitzer Prize. "On Juneteenth," however, is not an in-depth or scholarly history. Instead, it is a personal reflection on what it means for Gordon-Reed to be a Black Texan and what Texas means in African-American (and therefore American) history. She argues that, although Texas likes to think of itself as exceptional and separate, it is actually a better microcosm of a broader American history than some other places where we tend to place our "founding" stories (such as Massachusetts or Virginia). So goes Texas, so goes the nation... She makes some excellent points about why & HOW the history of African Americans and slavery in Texas is not as well known, despite the key role of slavery in its settlement & statehood. (Hint: At least PART of it is the preferred focus on the West Texas oil man & cattle rancher, a story that highlights Texas as part of the white settler West in the popular imagination, rather than as part of the plantation South.) Obviously, this is relevant to conversations about what gets taught as U.S. history today. This is sort of a love letter to Texas, but I was hoping for a more scholarly researched take (I love footnotes, but, alas, none to be found here). It's not really even *about* Juneteenth, except as a symbolic marker & a commentary on how many people in Texas have known about the importance of this date which only recently entered into the national conversation as a potential holiday. Obviously Gordon-Reed's name & position is what is bringing attention to the book & why I bought it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Terzah

    It's past time for this country to have a holiday dedicated to the emancipation of slaves. In this short book, historian Gordon-Reed makes a personal and historical case for making that holiday Juneteenth. Slaves in Galveston, Texas (Texas is the author's home state) didn't learn that they had been freed two years earlier until June 19, 1865, a day now commemorated in the state as "Juneteenth." By telling the story of Black people's history in Texas and the state's history with them, and describ It's past time for this country to have a holiday dedicated to the emancipation of slaves. In this short book, historian Gordon-Reed makes a personal and historical case for making that holiday Juneteenth. Slaves in Galveston, Texas (Texas is the author's home state) didn't learn that they had been freed two years earlier until June 19, 1865, a day now commemorated in the state as "Juneteenth." By telling the story of Black people's history in Texas and the state's history with them, and describing how Texas is the U.S. in miniature, Gordon-Reed makes a strong case for making Juneteenth a national festival. She also interweaves, to strong effect, stories of her own childhood (including how she integrated her school) and her family's history. I'm looking forward to reading her earlier books.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nina DuBois

    This one was really good as it really talks about Juneteenth it’s meaning and why it’s important to Texas, but also the history of the state. This one was even more intriguing since my family is from Texas and made me feel more connected to my family and understanding what their experiences may have been like. Highly recommend.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ruben Vermeeren

    2,5 - I am not a big essay or vignette reader and this book does little to change that. I found it rather disjointed, even though the writing is good. It contains some important history lessons about Texas - a place, I realise, that never once spiked my interest or any desire to visit. I fear that in a couple of years no memory remains of ever having read this.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    I never thought I'd learn so much from a book that is less than 150 pages! I didn't really know what Juneteenth was and this was a concise, meaningful explanation of the history of Juneteenth and what it means for our country. I never thought I'd learn so much from a book that is less than 150 pages! I didn't really know what Juneteenth was and this was a concise, meaningful explanation of the history of Juneteenth and what it means for our country.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    Interesting history and memoir. 3.8

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tom Allen

    Gorden-Reed is an enormously talented historian and writer. She has provided a brief but enlightening overview of the history of Texas and the struggles of a people once enslaved in that state. How do you come to love the place and the country that has over a 400 year history of holding your forbears in servitude. It’s complicated. Read the book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Straw

    Really interesting book about the past, whether it is the past, and how it impacts the present...with a focus on Texas.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lizy

    A series of informative essays on slavery and Jim Crow in Texas. I learned so much.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    One thing that always surprises me when listening to an audiobook is the length of the book. It was short. I wasn't ready. But it is a good little book that taught me about Juneteenth, Texas, and division. One thing that always surprises me when listening to an audiobook is the length of the book. It was short. I wasn't ready. But it is a good little book that taught me about Juneteenth, Texas, and division.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    A very good book. Really, on the history of being black in Texas, rather than on juneteenth. Definitely worth a read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    April

    Listened to this short, informative book walking on the beach. I definitely learned things about the history of Texas and the Juneteenth holiday.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Judy Owens

    Absolutely am a fan of Annette Gordon-Reed and this wonderful little book does to disappoint.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mary Higgins

    This book addresses the question of why we feel fondness for a particular place. This can be a difficult question, especially if one belongs to a minority which has been mistreated by the dominant group of that place. Gordon-Reed, a highly respected historian and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, explores why she, an African American, feels such attachment to the State of Texas, where she was born and grew up. She answers the question using memoir and stories from her rich family history. I think th This book addresses the question of why we feel fondness for a particular place. This can be a difficult question, especially if one belongs to a minority which has been mistreated by the dominant group of that place. Gordon-Reed, a highly respected historian and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, explores why she, an African American, feels such attachment to the State of Texas, where she was born and grew up. She answers the question using memoir and stories from her rich family history. I think this book will appeal to readers who like history.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jaisyn Allyn

    Gordon-Reed does an excellent job combining personal experience, historical facts, and opinion; combining it in a way that brings light to what it took for the people of Texas to start excepting all people ARE people and deserve the same rights, long after they should have. I was in awe of the details accounted for before AND after Juneteenth; how difficult it was for people to accept much needed change. Quick to read and much needed to open some eyes out there.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Erricka Hager

    Gordon-Reed's personal look at the history of Texas and the significance of Juneteenth to Black Texans. I craved more stories/essays about Juneteenth but I appreciate the background review of why Juneteenth is so important to Black Texans. Gordon-Reed's personal look at the history of Texas and the significance of Juneteenth to Black Texans. I craved more stories/essays about Juneteenth but I appreciate the background review of why Juneteenth is so important to Black Texans.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mike Steinharter

    Almost an extended essay, this little volume is a fascinating read. Through the eyes of her family and life in Texas we learn about this states history, an also about Juneteenth.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    In the afterward, Gordon-Reed refers to this collection as "this brief sketch of the history of Texas told through vignettes of my family" and that's what this short and enlightening collection is: essays about various aspects of Texas history related to the BIPOC experience, told through the lens of memoir from the perspective of a talented historian. Only the last essay relates directly to the subject of Juneteenth in Texas, while the rest tackle a diverse array of subjects from the civil righ In the afterward, Gordon-Reed refers to this collection as "this brief sketch of the history of Texas told through vignettes of my family" and that's what this short and enlightening collection is: essays about various aspects of Texas history related to the BIPOC experience, told through the lens of memoir from the perspective of a talented historian. Only the last essay relates directly to the subject of Juneteenth in Texas, while the rest tackle a diverse array of subjects from the civil rights movement and school desegregation to the early African American and Native American experiences in Texas. Gordon-Reed is a fantastic writer who does a great job blending the historical with the personal, and audiobook narrator Karen Chilton is an engaging reader.

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