Editors’ note: Juneteenth, the United States’ newest federal holiday, is a holiday originated by Black Americans, beginning in Galveston, Texas. It marks the anniversary of the June 19, 1865, General Order No. 3, which announced that all formerly enslaved people in Texas, the last state in the Confederacy with institutionalized slavery, were free. For Juneteenth this year, we invited scholars and writers to recommend one or more pieces of media for readers to read, watch, or otherwise reflect on in connection with the holiday. On behalf of the Just Security team, a sincere thanks to the contributors and to our readers, and wishing a meaningful Juneteenth to all.
Juneteenth is a time to reflect on the emancipation of Black Americans from the formal institution of slavery as well as to contemplate the myriad changes that remain necessary today to produce full liberation. In bridging that link between the end of formal enslavement and the present, two recent major works of 20th-century history have shaped my thinking about full emancipation.
First, Marcia Chatelain’s Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America (2020), provides critical lessons about the challenges of relying on capitalism as a means of alleviating the harms of racism. Chatelain traces the history of the relationship between McDonald’s and Black freedom efforts, focusing primarily but not exclusively on the 1960s and 1970s. Corporations such as McDonald’s may donate to racial justice organizations and strategically collaborate with Black entrepreneurs and community leaders in ways that seem inclusive. However, this reliance upon private enterprise for racial uplift is Janus-faced. It leaves Black communities in a precarious position while infusing corporations with public dollars that would likely be better spent on direct public support for racial justice initiatives. Chatelain provides a cautionary tale just as salient today: Private enterprise will not be sufficient to overcome the legacies of slavery.
Second, Elizabeth Hinton’s America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s unearths how several so-called urban “riots” in the period after the late 1960s forward, into the present, were actually rebellions aimed at countering police violence against people of color. The book is a vital reminder that we will continue to see the types of state violence exacted upon George Floyd and the violent rebellions that emerged in response as long as we fail to restructure American policing around goals that include justice and freedom. Hinton’s analysis is blistering and at times bleak, especially given the current backlash against the types of transformations in policing that are the central implications of the book. From a 2022 perspective, Hinton invites the reader to engage in a pragmatic emancipatory politics—one that takes contemporary politics into account but does not allow strategy to overwhelm a transformative long-range vision of racial justice.
 In this sense, Chatelain’s work perhaps intersects with a recent book by William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen, From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century (2020), which argues from a contemporary perspective that in part because of various failures and limitations of the private sector, the federal government must provide reparations for slavery, Jim Crow, and modern forms of racial discrimination.
Monica C. Bell (@monicacbell) is a Professor of Law at Yale Law School and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Yale University, and a member of the Just Security Editorial Board. Her scholarship, at the intersection of law and sociology, aims to center the voices and perspectives of people who experience legal exclusion. She was previously a Climenko Fellow & Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School and served as a Liman Fellow at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia.
On the occasion of Juneteenth, I recommend that you read the book Barbara Jordan: American Hero, by Mary Beth Rogers (2000). The life of Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) provides a lesson in quiet dignity, moral character, elegance, passion, and patriotism. Jordan was the first post-Reconstruction African-American elected to the Texas Senate and later went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first African-American woman from a southern state to do so. She exemplified resilience in the face of adversity, serving with grace and grit, and evincing a fighting spirit that we can draw on today. Her sonorous and honeyed voice called all of us to our higher selves. It is appropriate and fitting that we celebrate one of the greatest Americans and dedicated patriots that this country has ever known. Jordan’s family has roots in Juneteenth and Reconstruction, and these ingredients combined to produce an orator, advocate, and politician of historical importance. The life of Barbara Jordan, and her unyielding commitment to the Constitution and democracy, have deep roots in the emancipation of African-Americans from slavery. … Read more: Remembering Barbara Jordan on the Occasion of Juneteenth.
Warigia M. Bowman (@WarigiaBowman) is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Tulsa College of Law and the Democratic Nominee for Oklahoma Corporation Commission. She was previously a Harry S. Truman Scholar at Columbia College, the Barbara Jordan Scholar at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, the Oppenheimer Scholar for African Studies, and the Hauser Scholar for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
What is Juneteenth to an enslaved person in border states like Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri? Slavery existed in these states after June 19, 1865. These states were explicitly exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation, which had zero legal or constitutional authority to end slavery in Confederate territories. Slavery did not end across the entire United States until Dec. 6, 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified. From a legal and constitutional view, Juneteenth means nothing. So why do we celebrate it as the end of slavery and why is it a federal holiday? There is tremendous misinformation about Juneteenth’s historical and legal significance. I recommend folks read these articles, including my own in the Truman National Security Project’s Truman View:
- If Any Day Deserves Celebration for Ending Slavery, it’s Today.
- What the Emancipation Proclamation Didn’t Do
- 5 Things You May Not Know About Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Emancipation Proclamation
- Five myths about Juneteenth
- 13th Amendment ratified
Adom Cooper (@HouseCoop) is Operations Planning Specialist, High-Threat Programs (Bureau of Diplomatic Security) at the U.S. Department of State. He has work experience with the U.S. government, the United Nations, the American Society of International Law (ASIL), and private consulting firms.
I would recommend David W. Blight’s book, American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era. Utilizing the work of Robert Penn Warren, Bruce Catton, Edmund Wilson, and James Baldwin, Blight reminds us that the meaning of the Civil War for each generation is continually shifting. This seems entirely appropriate in an era where we commemorate Juneteenth, on the one hand, while a significant number of citizens support a resurgence of White nationalism on the other.
Charles P. Henry is professor emeritus of African American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He was appointed by President Clinton to the National Council on the Humanities in 1994, and served as an office director in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor from 1993 to 1994.
This Juneteenth you should commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States by reading one of the most important books written on American slavery—that is, Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Jacobs, who was born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina, ran away, at age 22, and spent the next seven years living in a crawl space nine feet long, seven feet wide, and three feet high, in her free grandmother’s home before escaping to the north. In her narrative, Jacobs argues that the essential wrong of slavery is owning people. By legally reducing persons to property, American law denied enslaved people recognition as persons and subjected them to all the powers that adhere to ownership. A slave’s owner could lawfully use (rape), sell, or destroy (kill) his slave property.
For that reason, you should refrain from using slavery as a metaphor. There are, of course, trivial uses of the term, some comparing NFL teams to plantations and players to enslaved people, for instance. But trading a player is not logically or morally akin to selling someone’s child. Most people use the term to describe forms of oppression such as mass incarceration or human trafficking. These descriptions spring from good intentions. But they also obscure crucial distinctions between slavery and post-emancipation forms of oppression. Unlike those incarcerated, enslaved people were legally classed property, which meant they could be sold or killed without due process of law, and their children could be legally sold or killed. Moreover, slave owners, unlike human traffickers, had lawful rights to use, sell, and dispose of their human property under state-sanctioned powers whereas those suffering the terrible fate of being trafficked are still legally persons and not property, and they therefore retain basic rights, including appeal to law and society. I understand the reasons for using “slavery” to draw greater attention to injsutices like mass incarceration and human trafficking. Some believe doing so is fine because the suffering of the living trumps concerns for the dead. Still, if we are to give slavery its due, if we are to honor the memory of enslaved pepple, then perhaps we should recognize that slavery is a distinctive form of oppression and using it as ametaphor trivializes its distinct injuries.
Desmond Jagmohan teaches the history of African American and American political thought at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently writing a book on Harriet Jacobs’s political thought, the first chapter of which appears as “Peculiar Property: Harriet Jacobs on the Nature of Slavery,” in Journal of Politics, Vol.84, No. 2 (April 2022).
If there was one thing I would recommend people read for Juneteenth it would be the text of General Order No. 3, issued by Major General Gorder Granger on June 19, 1865. To examine the text of the order is to get beyond the celebratory cast that the national holiday has imposed and to appreciate what a limited, even troubling, pronouncement it is. The terms of paragraph one, which provided for rights, contrast to those of paragraph two, which limited them. In 1865, the meaning of freedom was more than a legal status; it was a question that formerly enslaved people labored to answer for many decades to come.
Headquarters District of Texas
Galveston Texas June 19th 1865
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
By order of Major General Granger
Martha S. Jones (@marthasjones_) is an award-winning historian and the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and Professor of History and the SNF Agora Institute at The Johns Hopkins University. Her work in legal and cultural history examines how Black Americans have shaped the story of American democracy. Prior to her academic career, she was a public interest litigator in New York City, recognized for her work as a Charles H. Revson Fellow on the Future of the City of New York at Columbia University.
My family is from Jamaica, so I wasn’t raised celebrating Juneteenth. However, my husband’s family is from Texas and Mississippi, so he was deeply steeped in this tradition. Happily, there were lots of resources to help me get up to speed! Here are two:
Annette Gordon Reed’s On Juneteenth should be required reading for every American, but especially those trying to learn more about Juneteenth. It’s a series of personal essays reflecting on her upbringing in Texas and how so much of our world is shaped by the legacy of enslavement. Her writing is brilliant, trenchant, and true. If you read one book about Juneteenth, this should be it.
Black-ish, Juneteenth. If you’re pressed for time and are into popular culture, the Black-ish Juneteenth episode is definitely worth your time. It’s funny, informative, and thought-provoking — it truly makes you think about the social meaning of commemoration and memory.
Melissa Murray (@ProfMMurray) is the Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network, at New York University Law School. Her award-winning research focuses on the legal regulation of intimate life. She was previously on the faculty of University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, where she was the recipient of the Rutter Award for Teaching Distinction, and served as interim dean of Berkeley Law from March 2016 to June 2017.
Hosting Nikole Hannah-Jones in Fordham Law School’s inaugural Eunice Carter lecture (honoring one of our earliest Black women graduates) deepened my appreciation for her new book, A New Origin Story: The 1619 Project. I highly recommend it along with Hannah-Jones’s new children’s book, The 1619 Project: Born on the Water.
Catherine Powell (@ProfCatherine) is a professor at Fordham Law School and an Adjunct and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at NYU School of Law, where she is also a Visiting Scholar at the Center on Human Rights and Global Justice. She previously served in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Policy Planning Office and in the White House National Security Council as Director for Human Rights during the Obama administration.
James Baldwin once said that “All that can save you now is your confrontation with your own history . . . which is not your past, but your present. Your history has led you to this moment, and you can only begin to change yourself by looking at what you are doing in the name of your history.” Juneteenth demands such a confrontation. It is a celebration of the day in 1865 when enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas learned that they were free from the institution of slavery—nearly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. There are countless articles, books, podcasts and works worthy of reflection and study on Juneteenth, but one place I would recommend that people begin is by engaging with The 1619 Project. The work, created by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and published by the New York Times Magazine, was launched in 2019 to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved African people in colonial Virginia. The initial project, comprised of a collection of written essays and photographs, “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” The 1619 Project has expanded in recent years to include a podcast, a book, and a lyrical picture book for children, all of which grapple with American slavery, the enduring legacy of that pernicious institution, and the lasting impact of racial inequality on every facet of contemporary life. We cannot begin to understand the state of the world today—the scourge of racial inequality and the challenges that we must overcome—without an intimate understanding of our past. The 1619 Project, in all its varied forms, provides an opportunity to learn and reflect, challenging us to undertake the work necessary to build a fairer and more just future.
Among my other recommendations: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad; James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time; Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns; and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.
Vincent M. Southerland (@vmsoutherland.) is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Law and Co-Faculty Director of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at NYU School of Law. His previous positions include Executive Director of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law; Assistant Federal Public Defender with the Federal Defenders for the Southern District of New York; and Senior Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF).