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15 Books & Other Resources to Celebrate Juneteenth

June 16, 2021

This week marks the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth, the day news of freedom reached the last enslaved people in the United States on June 19, 1865.

Today, Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a time for reflection and celebration, for assessment, self-improvement and envisaging a more just and equitable future.

To celebrate Juneteenth, staff from the Drexel Libraries compiled a list of resources they personally have found to be inspiring and thought-provoking. The list—which includes books, films, plays, and museum exhibits—is meant to foster exploration and discussion about Juneteenth and to raise awareness of the ongoing efforts of civil rights activists in the United States.

We recognize there are thousands of amazing books and films not on this list, and we encourage readers to share what they’re reading or watching by emailing or by tagging the Libraries on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Books & Articles

Caste: The Lies that Divide Us
by Isabel Wilkerson
Borrow the e-book via the Free Library of Philadelphia

I read Caste by Isabel Wilkerson over the last year and got a lot out of it. It is well-written and exposed me to ideas I had not considered before regarding race in America.

Recommended by Elise Ferer, Librarian, Information Assistance and Undergraduate Learning

How to be an Antiracist
by Ibram X. Kendi
Read online via the Drexel Libraries
Borrow the e-book via the Free Library of Philadelphia

Kendi's book How to be an Antiracist was one of the suggested readings for a group I participated in that discusses antiracist pedagogy. Truly another eye opener when it comes to how privileged white people are. 

Recommended by Sharon Brubaker, Acquisitions Technician

Just As I Am
by Cicely Tyson
Borrow the e-book via the Free Library of Philadelphia

I also suggest the autobiography Just as I am by Cicely Tyson, who waited until she was 95 years old to pen this wonderfully written piece to embrace her life’s journey with strength and dignity.

Recommended by Antoinette “Tonie” Williams, Client Access Experiences

Nah, We Straight: An Argument Against Code Switching
by Vershawn Ashanti Young
Read online via the Drexel Libraries
Download a free copy of the article via JSTOR

Young’s powerful essay not only made me revise how I teach, but it proved to be a seminal text for my students as well. This was the first thing I read that called into question the norms of standard, conventional white writing. I now assign this essay as the first reading in my English 102 Composition and Rhetoric II: Advanced Research and Evidence-Based Writing class—to say that it makes students think about writing differently would be an understatement.

Recommended by Sharon Brubaker, Acquisitions Technician

Films, Plays & Videos

Freedom Calling: An Interactive Virtual tour of the “Slavery and Freedom” Exhibition with Founding Director Lonnie Bunch III

Provided by The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Watch the virtual tour via The Smithsonian website

A virtual tour of an exhibition, “Slavery and Freedom,” on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and led by its founding director, was among the most engaging celebrations of the holiday I experienced. Dr. Bunch is the first historian and first African American to serve as head of the Smithsonian Institution, and true to his educator’s background, he invitingly walked through the rich exhibition, stopping to offer details about a few select historic objects and the persons and events associated with them.

The exhibition illustrated the “value of deep hope and urgent organizing in uncertain times” that African Americans demonstrated throughout their personal stories. Their history is shared with the nation as a whole—experienced through slavery, emancipation, reconstruction, segregation and continued social injustices witnessed today. He also points out that the very concept of freedom is best understood at its intersection with the history of slavery. Among the important objects feature in the tour are Nate Turner’s bible, Harriett Tubman’s shawl and hymnbook, and the Sibley tent that housed numerous slaves in search of freedom with the Union Army.  If you cannot go to Washington, DC to experience the Museum in person, this short tour is a focused introduction to the wealth of knowledge and historic evidence housed there that may inspire you to take a trip there.

Recommended by Danuta A. Nitecki, Dean of Libraries, Drexel University Libraries

High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America
A docuseries based on the book by James Beard Award-winning author Jessica B. Harris
Available through Netflix

High on the Hog shows the true origins of African American cuisine and how it is evolving today.

Recommended by Antoinette “Tonie” Williams, Client Access Experience

In Our Mother’s Garden
A documentary film directed by Shantrelle P. Lewis
Available through Netflix

In Our Mother’s Gardens displays in a loving way how our mothers impact our lives through life’s trials and triumphs.

Recommended by Antoinette “Tonie” Williams, Client Access Experiences

Let's Get to the Root of Racial Injustice
TEDxRainier talk given by Megan Ming Francis, Assistant Professor at University of Washington
Watch the TED talk via the TEDxRainier website

This young, insightful academic thinker provides a vision of racism through personal stories both she and her younger brother–and many other Black people—have experienced. Her insights differ from many perspectives that I have heard for decades, in which she asserts rather than jump to a solution to “fix” the problem of racial injustice, we should look at the root cause of the problem.

Furthermore, she acknowledges that we should recognize that stories of racial injustices are not only stories of Black people but are stories of all of us and our collective behaviors. Her comments about the role of education also resonated with me in arguing that it is not a cure-all, but yet is how we expect to understand social injustices. I would welcome conversations with others who listen to Professor Megan Ming Francis’ clear ideas and are interested to explore our own views on social injustices. She has a calm but passionate way of stimulating self-reflection and raising questions on difficult topics to address social injustices that are still very relevant today, even though this TED talk now is several years old.

Recommended by Danuta A. Nitecki, Dean of Libraries, Drexel University Libraries

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Written by August Wilson
Read online via the Drexel Libraries
Borrow the e-book via the Free Library of Philadelphia

This recommendation is two parts and includes both the play by August Wilson and the Netflix adaptation
starring the late, great Chadwick Boseman. This play does a wonderful job depicting the richness of the recording experience, exploring the tragic and beautiful aspects of music, sexuality and image, and the place where those themes intersect. Naming the experience of exploitation and manipulation of Black talent for capital, the dynamic cast of characters illustrates the psychological and physical toll of this particularly insidious aspect of American society.

Recommended by Rachel Weidner, Administrative Coordinator

Other Resources