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On Juneteenth Hardcover – 1 June 2021
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"'The Education of Henry Adams’ is the second most influential memoir in American letters, after Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. Annette Gordon-Reed’s insightful, often touching reflection on the Black experience in Texas, starting with her own, lands between these two." -- H.W. Brands - The New York Times Book Review
"Juneteenth was a day long-celebrated by many Black communities in Texas and across America, but only in the past year or two has it become a more widely recognized holiday. In her slim but potent book, Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning historian and Harvard professor Annette Gordon-Reed explores the story of that day and all the ways that Black and Native people’s lives have been obscured in culture. As a Texas native, Gordon-Reed offers a book that is both profound and personal in its exploration of the ways history shapes our lives and becomes distorted and reinvigorated over time.
" -- The Best Books of 2021 So Far - TIME Magazine
"... Gordon-Reed offers a timely history lesson. She does so with beautiful prose, breathtaking stories and painful memories. Like the story of Juneteenth itself, the history she tells is one of yarns woven, dark truths glossed over and freedom delayed." -- Daina Ramey Berry - The Washington Post
"... Gordon-Reed is the textbook definition of public intellectual; and yet she gets personal in this slender, evocative memoir, blending gorgeous details from her small-town Texas girlhood with the unofficial celebration of slavery’s demise and the broader canvas of race in America..." -- 20 of the Best Books to Pick Up This May - Oprah Daily
From the Back Cover
Praise for Annette Gordon-Reed
"Annette Gordon-Reed has broken a path into territory that has hitherto eluded historians." --Edmund S. Morgan
"If this country has a modern Shakespeare looking for material, Gordon-Reed has provided it." --David W. Blight
"One cannot imagine another historian matching [Annette Gordon-Reed's] exhaustive research and interpretive balance." --David Levering Lewis
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I actually learned quite a bit by reading this book, as there was much about the history of Texas that I wasn't familiar with; especially as it pertained to Mexico's conflict with early Anglo settlers over the institution of slavery. Texas actually has a pretty complicated history, and as Gordon-Reed points out, the huge influence of slavery is often glossed over in the story of the fight for independence in Texas. I feel like this information is still not really adequately explained in many schools, partly because the horrors of slavery are too uncomfortable to discuss.
This was easy to read, and fairly short, at only 150 pages in six chapters. It inspired me to do more research on my own, as I was surprised at how much information was new to me. I appreciate the author for sharing a part of their life, and even more importantly, for shining a light on these events in history that many people might not be aware of.
Each essay has a different tone and subject emphasis. Although each standalone chapter is independently worthwhile, their combined message teach us strong lessons of why the mistakes of the past must never be glossed over or justified.
Strikingly clear are focused arguments on Texas' original constitution that enshrined slavery and forbid free-blacks from residing in the country then state. When emancipation came on June 19, 1865 ("Juneteenth"), the promises made were thwarted at every step, implemented in stages over a century, and still lagging behind other states in cultural acceptance.
The essays tell how Texas history includes a troubled assimilation of Native American, Hispanic, European, and African American peoples and cultures, each facing different challenges and using different approaches.
The author's strong personal and family lived experiences shared add depth and individual humanity to the tragic effects of misguided social inertia that has persisted far too long. However, another story emerges too of the search for truth, the whole story, and a more complete understanding and the basis for creating lasting, more meaningful, and unifying changes in our shared future. We've learned much, but we still need to learn more.
A most thought-provoking and eye-opening read. Audible's narration companion option worked well for my initial read. This work serves well as a focus for history or sociology courses, and book clubs.
The author writes in a fluid, easy-to-read style. Her tone is passionate. The book is dense with historical background and facts, yet it’s ultimately personal rather than scholarly.
It’s about the ways that history influences the world around us. It shapes our communities, our parents, and our own perceptions and feelings about ourselves. The history of Texas is a dramatic case. It’s a story of slavery, lynching, and segregation, and also of family-building, of African-American community, and of survival. In short, this book assimilates the meaning of this Afro-American history, by explaining it in terms of its consequences for her family history, for her childhood, and hence for her present self.
A major theme is that the way Texas history was taught in schooled influenced how African-American children came to see themselves. Some of these ways are demoralizing.
The author’s sees slavery as the motive for creation of the state. Mexico encouraged Anglo settlement in Texas in the early 19th century to establish a screen against Comanche attacks. The Anglo settlers brought slaves from the southern US. After the Mexican Revolution of 1821, Mexico suppressed slavery, it made importation of slaves into Texas illegal as of 1831. The Anglo settlers pushed back, since they wanted slaves to cultivate cotton and for ranching. In 1836, Anglo-Texans rebelled, defeated Mexico, and established the Texas Republic, which protected slavery. Texas joined the US as a slave state in 1846, during the Mexican-American war.
Texas seceded from the United States and joined the Confederacy at the start of the Civil War. Texas volunteers fought in the major battles in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, but Confederate forces in Texas continued to resist. They even defeated Union forces at Palmito Ranch in the last land battle of the war. Confederate forces in Texas surrendered after Confederate deserters flooded in from the American southeast,
Juneteenth is June 19, 1865 and marks Union General Gordon Granger’s declaration in Galveston that, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free…”. This marked the liberation of most Texas slaves. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed most slaves in principle but not in practice when it came into effect on January 1, 1863.
After the emancipation of Texan slaves, the US Freedman’s Bureau established schools to teach literacy. Gordon-Reed stresses this as a significant consequence of the new freedoms. She describes how grown men sat with children to learn to read and write.
The era of Jim Crow was unhappy, to say the least. A late 19th century lynching in her home country was celebrated with a public picnic. In 1922, Joe Winters, a Black man, was burned at the stake in front of a crowd in a nearby town after being accused of raping a White teenage girl. In 1936, Bob White, also a Black man, was accused of raping a White woman in Livingston, where Gordon-Reed was born. The Black community tradition holds that the White woman was having an affair with White, and that when discovered, she had to accuse him of rape to avoid shame. At the end of an appeals process that went all the way to the Supreme Court, the case was sent back to Livingston for retrial. The woman’s husband shot White in the back of the head in open court. The husband was later tried and freed by the jury. It’s easy to see how this history left a sense of trauma and of fear.
Integration came to Conroe in the 1960s. Gordon-Reed was the first Black child to attend the neighborhood White elementary school. This happened quietly and without the public uproar that accompanied integration elsewhere. The principal and teachers did what they could for her. Break-up of the separate black school system opened opportunities, but was also a loss. Many of the Afro-American teachers were highly committed to uplifting the community through education. Her mother was a teacher who, with integration, transferred to the formerly White school. This was a successful transfer, but her mother lost the web of ties with other Black teachers.
The absence of Afro-Americans from the history taught in public schools lowered self-esteem. It would have been confidence building, she argues, to learn the story of Estabanico, a slave seized in Morocco, who accompanied Cabeza de Vaca in the Narvez expedition in the 16th century. Estabanico traveled with Cabeza de Vaca on an incredible journey from Florida to the Pacific and then to Mexico City. According to Cabeza de Vaca's account, Estabanico’s assured the expedition’s survival by quickly learning American Indian languages.
Gordon-Read writes that despite this history, she loves Texas. She has roots there that reach back to the mid-19th century, it's the place where she passed her childhood, and where a large part of her family lives. She sees Texas has culturally absorbing, with it’s mix of Afro-American, Anglo, and Mexican ethnic populations, and some descendants of Native people. Doubtless, Texas is special.