Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Juneteenth: Books About American Slavery

It's Juneteenth! Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that Texas was informed of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.


Stolen into Slavery: The True Story of Solomon Northup, Free Black Man by Judith Bloom Frandin and Dennis Brindell Frandin. Solomon Northup was a free black living in New York when he was kidnapped and taken South and sold into slavery. It was illegal, but he had to find a way to contact his family to let them know where he was before anyone could help him.

Taking Liberty: The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington's Runaway Slave by Ann Rinaldi. At Mt. Vernon, Oney is called a servant, not a slave. When she becomes Martha Washington's lady's maid, she's has the most status of all the servants and is very close to her boss. But the fact remains that despite her relative luxury, she is still a slave.

The Freedom Business: Including a Narrative of the Life & Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa by Marilyn Nelson. Venture Smith was kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery. He was able to work and save enough to buy his freedom, and then buy the freedom of his family. Nelson tells his story in carefully crafted poetry, with Venture's own memoirs presented side-by-side.


Beloved by Toni Morrison. After the Civil War, Sethe is literally haunted by her dead baby, and metaphorically haunted by her time as a slave.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth. Truth was an activist for women and slaves and this is her memoir.

Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington. Washington was born a slave and after the Civil War managed to go to college. He then went on to found the Tuskegee Institute and other vocational schools for minorities.


Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper. Starting in Africa, Draper follows Amari's journey as she is kidnapped by slavers, transported across the Atlantic, and sold to an American plantation. There she meets Polly, an indentured servant on the plantation. Eventually they decide to try to escape. Instead of going North, they decide to head South, towards Spanish Florida.

Day of Tears by Julius Lester. In 1859, Pierce Butler sold off over 400 slaves to pay off gambling debts. It was the largest slave auction in the US. Sheets of torrential rain started with the auction, only ending when the selling did. Lester imagines the people involved-- the slaves, Butler, his family, the auctioneer, and others. Told in monologues and dialogues, Lester's novel packs a punch that won't soon be forgotten. He has several others about slavery as well, but this is my favorite.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson. Octavian is a slave, but one owned by a group of scientists, who give him an extensive classical education and closely monitor and document his growth and development, both phyiscal and mental. But as their expirements get more and more risky, Octavian has to admit certain hard truths about the reality of his situation. Told in a fitting and perfect 18th century voice, follow it with The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves

For more books about slavery, check out our list on National Freedom Day.

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