A Juneteenth Reading List to Honor the Continued Struggle for Black Liberation

The New Press Takeover

In the wake of current events, we encourage our community to read beyond the important scholarship we publish and consider the urgent and timely books published by our friends and colleagues. Today’s spotlight is on The New Press, who are taking over our blog and social media for the day. 

Introducing Ellen Adler, publisher of The New Press, and Derek Warker, publicity manager for The New Press. Ellen is a member of Columbia University Press’s advisory board and Derek is a former Columbia University Press publicist. 

Be sure to follow along on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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Today is Juneteenth, a portmanteau of the date it commemorates June 19, 1865. 155 years ago today, in Galveston, Texas—more than two months after the end of the American Civil War and more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation formally freed African Americans—Union general Gordon Granger read federal orders that all previously enslaved people in Texas were freed.

Today, as we take over Columbia University Press’s social media, we want to honor the continued struggle for Black liberation. Throughout its history, The New Press has published hundreds of books that challenge racism and shine a spotlight on systemic injustice, books that correct a whitewashed historical narrative and offer a vision for a more equal future. The reading list below does just that, but it is only a starting place. To quote Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, “Our only hope for our collective liberation is a politics of deep solidarity rooted in love.”

Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast

By Marjoleine Kars

On Sunday, February 27, 1763, thousands of slaves in the Dutch colony of Berbice—in present-day Guyana—launched a massive rebellion. Surrounded by jungle and savannah, the revolutionaries (many of them African-born) and Europeans struck and parried for an entire year. In the end, the Dutch prevailed because of one unique advantage—their ability to get soldiers and supplies from neighboring colonies and from Europe. Marjoleine Kars’s forthcoming Blood on the River tells the explosive story of this little-known revolution, one that almost changed the face of the Americas. Drawing on nine hundred interrogation transcripts buried in Dutch archives, Kars creates an astonishingly original work of history that reconstructs an extraordinarily rich day-by-day account of this pivotal event and provides a rare in-depth look at the political vision of enslaved people at the dawn of the Age of Revolution.

The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits

By Tiya Miles

Most Americans believe that slavery was a creature of the South, and that Northern states and territories provided stops on the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves on their way to Canada. In this paradigm-shifting and award-winning book, celebrated historian Tiya Miles reveals that slavery was at the heart of the founding of one of America’s most iconic cities: Detroit. Miles complicates what we believe about the North as a “free” territory and pieces together the experience of the unfree—both native and African American—in the frontier outpost of colonial Detroit, a place wildly remote in the view of Europeans yet at the center of national and international conflict.

Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy

By Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts

A book that strikes at the heart of the recent flare-ups over Confederate symbols, Denmark Vesey’s Garden traces the roots of these controversies to the heart of slavery in the United States: Charleston, South Carolina, where almost half of the U.S. enslaved population stepped onto our shores, where the first shot at Fort Sumter began the Civil War, and where Dylann Roof shot nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the congregation of Denmark Vesey, a Black revolutionary who plotted a massive enslaved people’s insurrection in 1822. Examining public rituals, controversial monuments, and whitewashed historical tourism, Denmark Vesey’s Garden tracks the rival memories of those who sought to romanticize the antebellum South and those who worked to preserve an unvarnished account of slavery, from the Civil War all the way to today.

Administrations of Lunacy: Racism and the Haunting of American Psychiatry at the Milledgeville Asylum

By Mab Segrest

In December 1841, the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum was founded. A hundred years later, it had become the largest insane asylum in the world with over ten thousand patients. Through riveting accounts of historical characters, Segrest reveals how modern psychiatric practice was forged in the traumas of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow. Deftly connecting this history to the modern era, Segrest then shows how a single asylum helped set the stage for the eugenics theories of the twentieth century and the persistent racial ideologies of our own times. Read an op-ed by the author in Time magazine about the history of bias in medicine and its risk to public health.

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools 

By Monique W. Morris

Foreword by Mankaprr Conteh and Melissa Harris-Perry 

In a work that Lisa Delpit calls “imperative reading,” Monique W. Morris chronicles the experiences of Black girls across the country whose intricate lives are misunderstood, highly judged—by teachers, administrators, and the justice system—and degraded by the very institutions charged with helping them flourish. Morris exposes a world of confined potential and supports the rising movement to challenge the policies, practices, and cultural illiteracy that push countless students out of school and into unhealthy, unstable, and often unsafe futures. Morris and filmmaker Jacoba Atlas expound upon these issues in a documentary of the same name. 

Morris’s newest book, Sing a Rhythm, Dance a Blues: Education for the Liberation of Black and Brown Girls, builds upon her groundbreaking work in Pushout to provide a blueprint for how to transform schools into places where learning and collective healing can flourish. For more about these books and others, check out our reading list “12 Books for Anti-Racist K-12 Education.”

Chokehold: Policing Black Men

By Paul Butler

Cops, politicians, and ordinary people are afraid of Black men. The result is the Chokehold: laws and practices that treat every African American man like a thug. In this explosive book Paul Butler shows that the system is working exactly the way it’s supposed to. Black men are always under watch, and police violence is widespread—all with the support of judges and politicians.

A former federal prosecutor and Georgetown University law professor, Paul Butler has been on the frontlines in recent weeks to provide context to recent events and calls to defund the police, writing and speaking with the media and testifying at a House Oversight Hearing on Police Practices and Accountability.


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michelle Alexander

Since this landmark book was first published in 2010, it has been cited in judicial decisions, helped inspire the creation of institutions like the Marshall Project, and empowered a whole new generation of activists. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander argues that the racial caste system in America never ended—it was simply redesigned—and that today’s criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control. Earlier this year The New Press published a tenth anniversary edition that includes an updated preface by the author that looks back on the book’s impact over the last decade and decries that “everything and nothing has changed.”

We are now at that precipice of change. Last week Michelle Alexander published an op-ed in the New York Times that addresses the murder of George Floyd and the ongoing protests across the country and around the world. In the piece Alexander warns that we must act to get things right or risk losing our democracy forever, urging readers to “face our racial history and our racial present.”

For more books that confront the history of racial inequity in our country and shine a spotlight on systemic injustice, check out The New Press blog and website.

For more on these titles, keep an eye on Columbia University Press’s social media channels throughout the day.

These titles, and others from The New Press, are available for purchase on Bookshop, a new online bookstore with a mission to help support brick and mortar independent bookstores and the book community.

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