Though slavery was abolished in the Confederate states in 1863, the news of the Emancipation Proclamation took months and sometimes years to reach all the slaves. For enslaved African Americans in Texas, they weren’t aware of their freedom until two years later on June 19, 1865, when a Union general named Gordon Granger came to Galveston and announced the Emancipation. Their celebration became known as Juneteenth. Over one hundred years later in 1997, the holiday was finally recognized by the United States Congress.
For those slaves in Texas, this holiday marked the day that they finally were able to claim the freedom they deserved. For us today, this American holiday represents a celebration of formally suppressed voices ringing out for liberty, civil rights, and community.
On this 154th anniversary of Juneteenth, we invite you to celebrate black voices. Here are five books by incredible women whose books encapsulate the importance of standing for love, understanding, individuality, justice, and equality.
Soul Psalms by U-Meleni Mhlaba-Adebo
This collection of poems captures one Zimbabwean American woman’s journey to loving herself and her battle for acceptance. She questions social norms and her place in the world with an assertive, memorable voice that haunts as much as it inspires. U-Meleni Mhlaba-Adebo’s words encapsulate the ebb and flow of vulnerability and confidence with poems like “Breaking Point” and “IN LOVE WITH MYSELF (A permission poem for all women).” She rebukes those who insult her race while joyfully celebrating her rich African heritage. In an unkind world, her voice is a clear message that power comes from enduring pain and that self-acceptance can bring peace.
In my years I have known incredible joy
But I have also known pain
My lips have been bruised
My heart has been bruised
But I am still HERE
(“The She in We”)
No Thanks by Keturah Kendrick
Keturah Kendrick doesn’t pull any punches while she dissembles female stereotypes. No, black women don’t have to be mothers to feel whole. Yes, black women can choose to be single and still be happy. Yes, black women should be able to make their own decisions as to what they want and need. Kendrick’s personal experiences emphasize her critique of a culture that has dictated who she is supposed to be for far too long. In this witty and unapologetic manifesto covering topics like love, marriage, children, travel, and religion, Keturah Kendrick says “no thanks” to stereotypes and illustrates the stunning prowess of a black woman set free.
“A chance to get chosen does not move me. I am single because I am enough for me.”
In the Heart of Texas by Ginger McKnight-Chavers
In this humorous and touching novel, Ginger McKnight-Chavers takes us to Texas with Jo Randolph, a soap opera sweetheart who is taking a not-so-optional break from Hollywood after her life blows up. A celebrity for most of her life, Jo must come to terms with adult life outside the glamorous glow of fame and tackle the question of who she really is. As if that isn’t hard enough, while Jo figures out how to grow up, she has to navigate the twisting roads of love, class status, racial prejudice, and reputation.
“We sipped wine, and he held my hand, and I felt the same sense of ‘I’m where I belong’ that I felt during my early days in New York . . . I don’t know what it is, but if I could bottle it and sell it, I wouldn’t have to work on soap operas anymore.”
Awaken by Denese Shelton
Haunted by nightmares of dogs chasing her and her neck in a noose, Sierra just wants some relief. At night, she dreams she is Dorothy, a fearless and faithful black woman fighting for civil rights, but during the day she feels trapped by past trauma. When the dreams continue to get more vivid, Sierra seeks out help—but she soon realizes that her own fear is what holds her back. Sierra must choose to learn from Dorothy if she wants to cope with her own painful history and let love and faith back into her life.
“She was exhausted, and her face was wet with tears. She was crying, really crying . . . and yet the world hadn’t stopped. She was still alive.”
Reclaiming Home by Lesego Malepe
In South Africa, the days of apartheid were an era of institutionalized racial segregation. Lesego Malepe was four years old when she was forced from her home into a segregated township with other black South Africans. Reclaiming Home is a diary of the illuminating journey Malepe takes through her South Africa as an adult, ten years after its liberation. Her travels through her home country—and her memories—paint a picture of how South Africa has changed since the days of segregation, and the growth that still can happen.
“Having had to start life from scratch in a foreign country, I don’t take such kindness and generosity for granted. I’ve lived long enough to know that I’m lucky.”