One hundred fifty-six years ago today, with the Civil War coming to an end, Union Army general Gordon Granger declared the emancipation of enslaved Americans in Texas. The rest of the country has since joined in the celebration, but Emancipation Day originated in Galveston, where the June 19, 1865, announcement took place. Texas is also the home state of Annette Gordon-Reed, the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and Harvard law professor, whose new book, On Juneteenth, is part history, part memoir, and focuses on the author’s own upbringing there. Here, Gordon-Reed suggests the essential books to understand Texas, past and present.
A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, by Andrés Reséndez
This book is about Texas before it became Texas. It’s the true story of Spanish explorers—among them Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca—who, after losing their ship in Florida, set sail across the Gulf of Mexico on rafts. They came ashore around the area of the future Galveston, beginning an extraordinary trek through what would become Texas and northern Mexico.
The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas, by Monica Muñoz Martinez
This is far from light reading. The book recounts the harrowing story of the depredations visited upon Mexican-Americans by the Texas Rangers and vigilantes during the first two decades of the 20th century. It’s a history that isn’t well known but should be.
Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas, by Stephen Harrigan
This book is like the state itself: big. It’s Texas history from A to Z, starting with the indigenous people who lived there in ancient times, all the way to the Bush family and Beyoncé.