Books to honor Juneteenth

Linda Sullivan - The Book WhispererOur Town Readers

The Book Whisperer recommends two books to honor Juneteenth National Independence Day: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 after years of being celebrated in African-American communities, and Knoxville has two events you may participate in this year. More information can be found here.

Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of all slaves in the United States. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Despite this proclamation, slaves were not free in states under Confederate control. Two and half years later on June 19, 1865, Union Major Gen. Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas, the westernmost Confederate state, and declared the enslaved Black people were free.

In the 1960s, Maya Angelou had a successful career in the arts and was reluctant to write an autobiography. Thankfully, she was convinced and her debut memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1969. Angelou’s recounting of her life is harrowing and gut wrenching at times! The story begins when 3-year-old Angelou and her brother, Bailee, are sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, and it ends when at 16, she is pregnant with her son. She describes a life hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”

My nonfiction book club friends and I read and discussed How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith in 2022. I still think about his perceptions of American history. The award-winning writer, poet and scholar takes us on a journey to plantations, cities, a prison and a cemetery to analyze how preserved structures in society reflect conflicting and foundational truths about our past.

Look for these recommendations and other books at Knox County Online Library or your local independent book store each week.

Linda Sullivan is an avid reader and wants to make you one, too. For more recommendations or just to talk books, reach out to her at She can also be found @thebookwhisperertn on Instagram.


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