People & Leadership

Sage Book Club: #ForwardToFreedom books to celebrate Juneteenth

Perched high above the Ohio River Valley, Eden Park offers stunning views of downtown Cincinnati, the Ohio River, and neighboring Kentucky. It is also home to an annual Juneteenth celebration, which for me as a child marked the first “big” celebration of the summer.

While I grew up celebrating Juneteenth, I know for many people 2020 was the first they ever heard of this celebration.

What is Juneteenth? As the History Channel explains it, “Juneteenth commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States.”

On June 19, 1865 – two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and more than two months after the end of the Civil War – federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and ensure that all enslaved people were freed.

The first known Juneteenth celebration happened the following year.

As we approach this year’s Juneteenth holiday colleagues from our internal colleague success network BUILD@Sage (Blacks United in Leadership & Development) have curated a reading list to help you expand your understanding of the Black experience in the United States and to support you in creating a more inclusive culture for your business and your community.

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#ForwardToFreedom Fiction Books

Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison

Set in the 1950s, this posthumous second novel by Ralph Ellison tells the story of a New England senator who is shot on the Senate floor. On his death bed he requests the presence of an elderly black minister, Reverend Alonzo Hickman.  When the reverend arrives, the senator has one request, “Tell me what happened while there’s still time.”

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

When this book was originally published in 1952 it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks.  The nameless narrator of the story is a young Black man who moves through a 20th century United States where he is invisible not through magic or supernatural ability, but because of others unwillingness to see him.

Roots by Alex Haley

Inspired by the author’s own family history, Roots tells the story of Kunta Kinte and his descendants who lived through major historical events.

#ForwardToFreedom Non-Fiction Books

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

In this book, Wilkerson examines civilizations throughout history to uncover the eight pillars that underlies caste systems and explores how United States history is shaped by a hidden caste system.

Benign Bigotry By Kristin J. Anderson

Kristen Anderson explores six commonly held cultural myths to demonstrate how beliefs held by individuals can impact society at large and offers strategies for reducing prejudice in daily life.

Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility by Dorceta E. Taylor

Poor and minority neighborhoods are more likely to be home to hazardous waste and toxic facilities. Taylor examines historical and contemporary case studies to find out why and to change the conversation on environmental justice.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

A New York Times bestseller, this book examines how to move beyond awareness of racism to playing an active role in creating a just and equitable society.

#ForwardToFreedom Young Adult/Children Books

All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

As seen through the eyes of a little girl, this picture book tells the story of the first Juneteenth.

Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

Set in modern day, Mazie is a little girl who discovers the meaning of the Juneteenth celebrations.

The Story of Juneteenth: An Interactive History Adventure by Steven Otfinoski

In this “choose your own adventure”-style book, young readers can choose to explore multiple perspectives on history.


Do you have a #ForwardToFreedom book recommendation for Juneteenth? Share it with us in the comments.

Looking for more reading recommendations? Visit our Sage Book Club hub for more reading lists.