Happy (early) Juneteenth! A Reading List, Part One

Happy early Juneteenth! If you don’t know, June 19th is “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement.” While there is a lot more work to be done in reference to true liberation, knowing our history and celebrating moments of black resistance and freedom are true and much needed, in my eyes, forms of healing. Today’s recommended reading list is focused on the experiences of those enslaved. As mentioned in the title, this is part one of the reading list, but part two will be published on the 18th and focuses on honoring the powerful tradition of black resistance. Don’t end your celebration and support of Juneteenth at this post, look for black-owned organizations to donate to and also look for black-owned businesses to purchase from.


CAPITALISM AND SLAVERY, THIRD EDITION

BY ERIC WILLIAMS

Slavery helped finance the Industrial Revolution in England. Plantation owners, shipbuilders, and merchants connected with the slave trade accumulated vast fortunes that established banks and heavy industry in Europe and expanded the reach of capitalism worldwide. Eric Williams advanced these powerful ideas in Capitalism and Slavery, published in 1944. Years ahead of its time, his profound critique became the foundation for studies of imperialism and economic development. Binding an economic view of history with strong moral argument, Williams’s study of the role of slavery in financing the Industrial Revolution refuted traditional ideas of economic and moral progress and firmly established the centrality of the African slave trade in European economic development. He also showed that mature industrial capitalism in turn helped destroy the slave system. Establishing the exploitation of commercial capitalism and its link to racial attitudes, Williams employed a historicist vision that set the tone for future studies.

THE SOULS OF WOMENFOLK: THE RELIGIOUS CULTURES OF ENSLAVED WOMEN IN THE LOWER SOUTH

BY ALEXIS WELLS-OGHOGHOMEH

Beginning on the shores of West Africa in the sixteenth century and ending in the U.S. Lower South on the eve of the Civil War, Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh traces a bold history of the interior lives of bondwomen as they carved out an existence for themselves and their families amid the horrors of American slavery. With particular attention to maternity, sex, and other gendered aspects of women’s lives, she documents how bondwomen crafted female-centered cultures that shaped the religious consciousness and practices of entire enslaved communities. Indeed, gender as well as race co-constituted the Black religious subject, she argues—requiring a shift away from understandings of “slave religion” as a gender-amorphous category.

BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES OF CHILDHOOD: AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILDREN IN THE ANTEBELLUM NORTH

BY CRYSTAL LYNN WEBSTER

For all that is known about the depth and breadth of African American history, we still understand surprisingly little about the lives of African American children, particularly those affected by northern emancipation. But hidden in institutional records, school primers and penmanship books, biographical sketches, and unpublished documents is a rich archive that reveals the social and affective worlds of northern Black children. Drawing evidence from the urban centers of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, Crystal Webster’s innovative research yields a powerful new history of African American childhood before the Civil War. Webster argues that young African Americans were frequently left outside the nineteenth century’s emerging constructions of both race and childhood. They were marginalized in the development of schooling, ignored in debates over child labor, and presumed to lack the inherent innocence ascribed to white children. But Webster shows that Black children nevertheless carved out physical and social space for play, for learning, and for their own aspirations.