Books Honoring African-American Activists are Important Reads for Juneteenth National Holiday

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States and celebrates African-American freedom. On June 19, 1865, Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with federal troops to inform enslaved African-Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. General Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two and a half years earlier and gave the 250,000 enslaved people living in Galveston their independence. Juneteenth marks our country’s second independence day and is celebrated nationally as a day of reflection and rejoicing. It also offers opportunity to acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today.

Notre Dame Press spotlights two books to learn more about the history of race and racism in the U.S. William Still: The Underground Railroad and the Angel at Philadelphia is the first major biography of the free black abolitionist William Still, who coordinated the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad and was a pillar of the Railroad as a whole. This monumental work details Still’s life story beginning with his parents’ escape from bondage in the early nineteenth century and continuing through his youth and adulthood as one of the nation’s most important Underground Railroad agents and, later, as an early civil rights pioneer. Based on Still’s own writings and an analysis of his records on the runaways he assisted on their escape to freedom, the book challenges previously accepted interpretations of the Underground Railroad. The Library Journal, in a starred review, calls the book, “an essential work that is a must-read for those interested in the Underground Railroad and Black history in the U.S.” 

Nannie Helen Burroughs: A Documentary Portrait of an Early Civil Rights Pioneer, 1900–1959, edited and annotated by Kelisha B. Graves, celebrates the life of an African American educator and activist. This book represents a landmark contribution to the African American intellectual historical project by allowing readers to experience Burroughs in her own words. This anthology of her works written between 1900 and 1959 encapsulates Burroughs’ work as a theologian, philosopher, activist, educator, intellectual, and evangelist, as well as the myriad of ways her career resisted definition. Burroughs rubbed elbows with such African American historical icons as W. E. B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell, and Mary McLeod Bethune, and these interactions represent much of the existing, easily available literature on Burroughs’ life. The Journal of American History says, “In this collection of documents, the historian Kelisha B. Graves focuses on Burroughs’s published writings on race and racism, women’s rights, and social justice. . . . Graves has raised interesting questions about ambiguities in the black protest movement in the first half of the twentieth century.” 

On Thursday, June 17 William Kashatus will be hosting a virtual Juneteenth Commemoration Kick-Off with a virtual Book Talk at 5:00 p.m. and a Chester County Walking Tour. You can learn more about these events here on the Notre Dame Press Events page. 

You can register here for the Book Talk and here for the Walking Tour. 

William Still and Nannie Helen Burroughs are available from the University of Notre Dame Press. You can purchase copies wherever books are sold. We encourage you to support your local independent bookstore either in person or online.

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