On Juneteenth

Liveright: Norton. May 2021. 144p. ISBN 9781631498831. $15.95. HIST
With this book of five essays, Gordon-Reed (known for her landmark research on Sally Hemings) examines her own past and family, and interrogates what it means to her to be a Black Texan. Starting with her story of being the first Black child to integrate her local school in Conroe, TX, Gordon-Reed reveals the history of lynching and terror inflicted on her family and their neighbors, which haunts them still. She reminds us that Estebanico, a Black Muslim man from Morocco, arrived in present-day Texas a century before the landmark year 1619 that we often recognize as the start of slavery in the U.S. She also examines the role of slavery in luring whites to eventually establish the state of Texas. Gordon-Reed recalls the cultural artifacts that inflected her own youth (the Alamo, Billy Jack, Six Flags over Texas, and the Yellow Rose of Texas, for example) and uncovers their hidden histories of race. Her stories about her family’s Juneteenth celebrations show that the holiday is uniquely Texan, even as it has now spread across the nation.
VERDICT This beautifully written memoir makes the case that the history of Black Texas is central to the history of the United States. Gordon-Reed’s writing will move all readers of U.S. history.
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