NOTE: I am going to take a brief break from the blog. My plan is to begin posting again the week of May 9.
First, the weekly book report: On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed.
Part memoir, part history, part psychoanalysis of Texas, this slim volume enlightens the movement to make June 19, Juneteenth, a national holiday. On June 19th, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, the end of legalized slavery was announced–two years after The Emancipation Proclamation and two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant.
Gordon-Reed grew up in Texas and in fact, she was the first Black child to attend an all- white school in her hometown, Conroe, Texas. Her story is compelling and offered me several new perspectives. For example, the Black high school near her home was Booker T. Washington High School, usually referred to in the community as “Booker T,” but when people outside the community called it Washington High School and assumed it was named for “George”
Another new thought: Gordon-Reed writes about the effect of integration on Black teachers. “The children were to be integrated, not the teaching staff…People who had been figures of authority were put in charge of dispensing books and doing other administrative tasks that took them away from contact with Black students, depriving those students of daily role models.” p. 51. Think of the longterm effects of that practice.
My family lived in Texas for two years, when I was in junior high school. My father was transferred there from New York and then transferred back to New York. During our brief time there I acquired a Texas accent and learned to address my teachers as “Sir” and “Ma’am”–both habits I lost quickly when we returned to Long Island. What I didn’t acquire was much real knowledge about Texas. I learned about the six flags that flew over Texas and about the Alamo and all the reasons Texas was great. I didn’t learn anything about the history of slavery in Texas.
When slavery in Texas was mentioned, it was presented as an unfortunate event that was to be acknowledged but quickly passed over. There was no sense of the institution’s centrality. Slavery was done. There was no point in dwelling on the past. Texas was all about the future, about what came next–the next cattle drive, the next oil well. the next space flight directed by NASA’s Mission Control in Houston.pp. 27-28
In steps the historian. And we continue to learn and to gain insight about the implications of the past and what needs to happen now.
Now for Thoughts about Reading and Retirement.
After reading On Juneteenth, which I got at the library, I realized I have yet to read Gordon-Reed’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning book The Hemingses of Monticello, An American Family (2008). Don’t scold me. Periodically, I take the book from the shelf of other miscellaneous, yet to be read nonfiction books and ask myself if this is the time. It’s a BIG BOOK, and I know when I read it, I will want to focus and fully immerse myself in it.
It’s the kind of book I think I will want to read when I retire, but I’m not planning to retire anytime soon.
Now here’s a confession. Sometimes when many around me tell me I must read a certain book OR when I hear or read too many reviews about a book, I lose interest in reading the book myself. Because of that, I know I have missed reading many books I would have loved. But it is not too late. There is always retirement whenever that happens or whenever the time is right for that specific book.
In the meantime I daydream about other books on my shelves I want to re-read or read for the first time.
What books do you daydream about reading? What books did you miss when they were first published but interest you now? I would love to know.