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For as long as slavery has existed, there have been those who’ve resisted it, foremost enslaved people themselves. As Frederick Douglass often said, “Who would be free themselves must strike the blow.” That spirit of resistance led not only to the abolition of slavery but also to the defeat of Jim Crow, and it continues to animate today’s struggles against slavery’s legacy of persistent racism and inequality.
In honor of Juneteenth, we have compiled a list of readings that explores this spirit of resistance, from the eighteenth century to the present. With essays about the Atlantic slave rebellions of the Age of Revolution, Nat Turner’s revolt in 1831, the overlooked foundations of post-Reconstruction abolition democracy, the civil rights movement, and this century’s movements for racial justice, our Juneteenth reading list charts the perennial struggle for freedom.
The readings on this list touch on some of the most urgent political questions of our moment: How crucial was slavery to the foundation of the United States? To what extent did the birth of capitalism depend upon the labor of the enslaved? And what can the history of resistance to slavery and white supremacy teach today’s movements about how to effect lasting change?
What if we use the history of slavery as a standpoint from which to rethink our notion of justice today?
Several recent books offer a more complete, bottom-up picture of the role sailors and Black political actors played in making the Atlantic world.
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