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Reading List June 17, 2022

No Struggle, No Progress

A Juneteenth reading list on racial capitalism, resistance, and remaking the world.

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?


Peter James Hudson

Recent histories of slavery and capitalism ignore radical black scholarship.

Walter Johnson

What if we use the history of slavery as a standpoint from which to rethink our notion of justice today?

Randal Jelks Kellie Carter Jackson Force and Freedom
Randal Maurice Jelks

Long before the Civil War, black abolitionists shared the consensus that violence would be necessary to end slavery. Unlike their white peers, their arguments were about when and how to use political violence, not if.

Britt Rusert

History has tended to sanitize the lives of abolitionists, many of whom were involved in other radical movements as well, including Free Love, which promoted women’s independence and an end to traditional marriage.

1619 debate
David Waldstreicher

Critics of the New York Times’s 1619 Project insist the facts don’t support its proslavery reading of the American Revolution. But they obscure a longstanding debate within the field of U.S. history over that very issue.

Steven Hahn

Several recent books offer a more complete, bottom-up picture of the role sailors and Black political actors played in making the Atlantic world.

Alberto Toscano

Frightened slaveowners cast the rebel leader as a monster. Scholars have misunderstood his religiosity. A new creative history comes closer than ever to giving us access to Turner’s visionary life.

Michael Reagan

Sixty years ago, a pathbreaking jazz album from Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and Oscar Brown, Jr., fused politics and art in the fight for Black liberation. Black artists are taking similar strides today.

Robin D. G. Kelley

While W. E. B. Du Bois praised an expanding penitentiary system, T. Thomas Fortune called for investment in education and a multiracial, working-class movement.

Paul Gowder

The language of universal rights can be a powerful tool for advancing social justice.

Brandon M. Terry


Canonization has prevented a reckoning with the substance of King’s intellectual, ethical, and political commitments.

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