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The essential, sweeping story of Juneteenth’s integral importance to American history, as told by a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and Texas native.
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
What we think we know about the past isn't always the full story, as On Juneteenth makes stunningly clear. Historian Annette Gordon-Reed shows us an important side of her state’s history, chronicling the events that led to the enslaved finally being freed in Texas on June 19, 1865—more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. But she shows that this story isn’t only about that moment—a persistent state of racial inequality followed. Weaving in her own memories of growing up in the Jim Crow era, Gordon-Reed recounts painful realities that left us feeling enlightened—such as reading about how Gordon-Reed herself played a role in the desegregation of her hometown’s school system. A brilliant, baffling, and absolutely necessary read, On Juneteenth will change the way you think about the Lone Star State.
Pulitzer-winner Gordon-Reed (The Hemingses of Monticello) interweaves history, politics, and memoir in these immersive and well-informed essays reflecting on the history of Juneteenth. She places the story of June 19, 1865, the day (two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation) when African Americans in Galveston, Tex., learned they were free, in the context of the bargain struck between settler Stephen F. Austin and the Mexican government in the 1820s to allow chattel slavery in what became east Texas, and notes that after winning independence from Mexico in 1836, Texans pushed for annexation into the U.S. in order to protect themselves from the rising tide of abolitionism. Gordon-Reed also describes the "oddity of being on display" as the first student to integrate schools in her hometown of Conroe, sketches the history of Indigenous peoples in the region, and discusses the story behind the song "The Yellow Rose of Texas," which was based on a (likely false) legend that Mexican general Antonio L pez de Santa Anna lost the Battle of San Jacinto because he was "distracted" by a "beautiful woman of color" spying for the Texas revolutionaries. Despite the thorny racial history, Gordon-Reed expresses a deep fondness for her native state, writing that "love does not require taking an uncritical stance toward the object of one's affections." This brisk history lesson entertains and enlightens.
Excellent: Informative, entertaining, and so well researched and written.
A Celebration of New America
Thank you Ms. Gordon-Reed. As John Adams said that the Declaration of Independence should be read each July 4th to celebrate the break with Great Britain your work should be read to remind us, regardless of our ethnicity, to make our nation ONE. As God created us.
Full of facts and memories from the author. It’s definitely a book to read