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Juneteenth is America’s vital new holiday that marks the end of slavery, and its legacy continues to influence our understanding of freedom and our fight for racial justice today. Annette Gordon-Reed, MacArthur Genius and the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize for History, is one of the integral voices who brought Juneteenth into the national conversation. Her book about this profound day—On Juneteenth—is a powerful, essential work of history that weaves together America’s past with personal memoir; it was named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, TIME, and NPR. The New York Times calls Annette “one of the most important American historians of our time.” She first rose to prominence when she pushed for scholars and the public to take Black people’s versions of history seriously—no matter how inconvenient they may be. Today, she draws on her book to show us how we can learn from the past and keep striving for progress together.
“A brilliant book…It marks the author as one of the most astute, insightful, and forthright historians of this generation.”— New York Review of Books, on The Hemingses of Monticello
Annette Gordon-Reed is a Professor of History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard Law School, and the award-winning author of six books. Her latest book, On Juneteenth, sets out to capture the integral importance of the holiday to American history. It quickly became a New York Times bestseller, was featured on the magazine’s 100 Notable Books list, and chosen as one of its the top five non-fiction books of the year. When President Joe Biden finally signed into law a bill that established Juneteenth as a federal holiday—the culmination of a decades-long effort—Annette was among those invited to witness the historic moment. “I think it will be good for the country to have a day to reflect on slavery and the end of slavery,” Gordon-Reed said.
In her earlier piece “Growing Up with Juneteenth,” written for The New Yorker, Annette recounts how the Texas holiday became a national tradition: “When I was a little girl, in Texas, I thought Juneteenth belonged to us, meaning to the state of Texas generally and to Black Texans specifically,” she starts, before going on to recount the disconnect between “freedom” in legal terms versus lived reality, the unfulfilled promise of the Declaration for Black Americans, and the horrors they have had to endure even after the Emancipation Proclamation. Impassioned, moving, and articulate, On Juneteenth is an even deeper, more personal recollection—a captivating blend of memoir and history that explores the violence and oppression that preceded and followed this celebration, what it means to us now, and how it relates to our larger fight for equality.
Annette is also the author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history and the National Book Award for nonfiction—along with fourteen other awards. It explores the inconsistencies of Jefferson’s stance on slavery and his relationship with enslaved woman Sally Hemings, and has been called “the best study of a slave family ever written” by noted Jefferson scholar Joseph Ellis. Her other books includeThomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy—a rich examination of scholarly writing on the relationships between Jefferson and Hemings, which exposes the possibility that scholars were misguided by their own biases and may even have contorted evidence to preserve their preexisting opinions of Jefferson. Her other book, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination, presents a provocative character study of Jefferson that challenges much of the scholarly status quo on his portrayal throughout history.
Her honors include the National Humanities Medal (awarded by President Barack Obama), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship. Annette was also elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a member of the Academy’s Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences. In 2019, she was elected a Member of the American Philosophical Society. Annette was also the first Black student to enroll in an all-white school in her town in Texas. There is now a school named after her there.
With respect to feedback on Annette, nothing but praise! People wanted more. Many said they learned so much and that they wished they had more time for more questions. Others noted that her style of delivery made it that much more palatable because it was easy and conversational. We are truly grateful for the opportunity to have had her speak to us.Microsoft / Blacks in CELA Employee Network
Like her latest book, On Juneteenth, our conversation with Annette Gordon-Reed was profound in its scope and impact, while also intimately grounded in her personal history and life experiences as a native Texan, historian, and as part of the first generation of African Americans to desegregate the South.The feedback from our employees has been overwhelmingly grateful and inspired. Our employees are in the business of story-telling and were especially moved by Gordon-Reed’s examination of the origin stories told (and those historically silenced) about this country. Gordon-Reed reminds us that American history is endlessly complicated and that there is plenty of room for different voices and interpretations beyond the myths of valor and heroism that have dominated American history.Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios
Close to a month after the event, Annette’s voice and words still resonate. I’m still getting compliments on the wisdom of my choice of speakers. Her historical knowledge is of course deep and impeccable, and she has the magic touch when it comes to sharing that knowledge in such a way that real enlightenment comes to those who are not scholars or specialists. Annette's talent for engaging a variety of minds with the full weight of her expertise but without condescension or abstraction made the panel discussion a memorable highlight of the evening. Overall, Annette was an exceptional choice for us, and I’m grateful to Lavin for being instrumental in making it happen.Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture