Summer Reading Series Part 3: Juneteenth

A man reads at a cafe tableThroughout the summer students, faculty, and staff at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith will release weekly reading (and watching) lists, centered around amplifying diverse voices, and sharing impactful stories with the UAFS community. 


Ahead of Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, UAFS faculty, staff, and students have compiled a reading and watching list full of works that explore, celebrate, and honor the Black experience, and emphasize equality, education, and empowerment.


Juneteenth was officially declared a national holiday this week, through the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act which allows national pause to honor the events of June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended & the enslaved people of Galveston were free - two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. More about the history of Juneteenth celebrations and and their importance is available at


On Juneteenth - Recommended by Cammie Sublette

Annette Gordon-Reed's On Juneteenth is a powerful and beautifully written description of the historical origins of Juneteenth celebrations. In this short book, filled with personal as well as historical vignettes, celebrated historian and author Gordon-Reed describes the Texas roots of the June 19th celebration. Told often through the lens of memoir, Gordon-Reed narrates the complicated story of African American history in Texas by sharing her own coming of age in the Lone Star State. Among the recollections she includes, Gordon-Reed delicately unfolds her role in Texas school integration when she was only 6 years old, illustrating that almost before she realized it, she was making history as well as recording it. For anyone wanting to learn more about Juneteenth and/or Texas history, this is an excellent read. 


A Promised Land by Barack Obama – Recommended by Alora Bauer
This is definitely a daunting read but ultimately worth the time it takes.  A Promised Land starts out with a brief look at Obama’s early life and political career before diving into his presidential campaign and first few years in office. Once you get into the presidency, each chapter contains an in-depth look at a different topic, including the economy, healthcare, foreign relations, and much more. Reading this memoir increased my understanding of complicated issues and in turn my respect for all that Obama did for our country as president.


Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble - Recommended by Jordan Ruud

This book zeroes in on how search engines represent black women differently from other social groups, often in overtly racist and sexist ways. It’s an uncomfortable topic, but knowing is the first step.


Black Panther: World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay, Yona Harvey, Ta-nehisi Coates, and Rembert Browne; artists, Alitha E. Martinez, Roberto Poggi, Rachelle Rosenberg, Afua Richardson, Tamra Bonvillain, Joe Bennett ; letterer, Joe Sabino; Recommended by Jason D. Phillips

This limited series graphic novel is a spin-off from Marvel Comics’ Black Panther title that follows Ayo and Aneka, two Wakandan members of the Dora Milaje, the Black Panther's female security force.  The series also includes backstory of women in Wakanda.  Also, be sure to check out the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Panther!


Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson – recommended by Alora Bauer

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson guides us through America’s hidden caste system by looking at it in relation to the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany. She provides extensive historical examples of disenfranchisement, violence, and injustice as she discusses the eight underlying pillars of the oppressive caste system and how they work to maintain America’s rigid hierarchy. Caste is a powerful and thought-provoking book that should be required reading for all.


Don't call us dead : poems by Danez Smith - Recommended by Jason D. Phillips

A Finalist for the National Book Award, this collection of poetry addresses race, class, sexuality, faith, social justice, mortality, and the challenges of living HIV positive at the intersection of black and queer identity. The collection opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved on earth.  -Recommended by Jason D. Phillips


Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams – Recommended by Melissa Freiley

This award-winning, debut novel shares the poignant journey of a sensitive, funny thirteen-year-old girl, Genesis, who is struggling with colorism, her dad’s addictions and verbal abuse, and a new school in the white suburbs of Detroit.  Genesis keeps a running list of things wrong with herself and tries numerous times, unsuccessfully, to lighten her dark skin.  New friends and a caring choir teacher join Genesis in her journey to self-acceptance.  This book sensitively navigates the important issues of racism and family problems for younger—or young at heart—readers.


Imitation of Life Disc 1. Imitation of life (1934, b&w, 111 min.) / a Universal picture; the new Universal presents; produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr.; screenplay, William Hurlbut; directed by John M. Stahl -- Disc 2. Imitation of life (1959, col., 125 min.) / Universal-International presents; screenplay by Eleanore Griffin and Allan Scott; produced by Ross Hunter; directed by Douglas Sirk; Recommended by Jordan Ruud

There are two tellings of this classic story about racial passing and self-sacrifice. For my money, the more compelling of the two is the 1959 version, anchored in fantastic performances from Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore, in which the moving story of a black woman unable to come to terms with her racial identity overcomes the movie’s deliberately melodramatic and artificial surface.


Legendborn by Tracy Deonn – recommended by Alora Bauer

I've always been a fan of Arthurian retellings, and Tracy Deonn has brought something truly new and exciting to the (round) table with Legendborn - an intimate look at grief and being Black in the South. After the death of her mother, Bree Matthews escapes to the early college program at UNC-Chapel Hill. She's desperate to outrun her grief, but when she witnesses a demon attack off-campus, strange memories come flooding back of the night her mom died. The memories lead her to the Order of the Round Table, descendants of King Arthur and his knights known as Lengendborn. To discover the truth of her mother’s death, Bree will have to infiltrate the Order by becoming their newest recruit.


R-E-S-P-E-C-T : Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Frank Morrison - Recommended by Jason D. Phillips

This authoritative, rhythmic, Coretta Scott King Illustration Award-winning picture book biography about the life and times of Aretha Franklin will captivate readers, young and old.  Aretha Franklin was born to sing. The daughter of a pastor and a gospel singer, her musical talent was clear from the earliest days in her father's Detroit church. Aretha sang with a soaring voice that spanned more than three octaves. Her incredible talent and string of hit songs earned her the title "the Queen of Soul." This Queen was a multi-Grammy winner and the first female inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And there was even more to Aretha than being a singer, songwriter, and pianist: she was an activist, too. Her song "Respect" was an anthem for people fighting for civil rights and women's rights.


The complete fiction of Nella Larsen By Nella Larsen - Recommended by Jordan Ruud

Though it’s a Harlem Renaissance novel, Quicksand still feels fresh today because of the richness of its autobiographical characterization and its prose depicting a protagonist in the process of ongoing transformation. Passing is also very much worth reading and will become a Netflix movie later this year.

Date Posted: 
Friday, June 18, 2021
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