Juneteenth: A Time to Read and Reflect

Juneteenth – June 19th — became a federal holiday in 2021. It marks the date in 1865 when the enslaved people in Texas were officially informed of their freedom 2 1/2 years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox and the North had seemingly won the Civil War.

But, 159 years later, the fight continues. Only last week, an overwhelming majority of House Republicans voted to reinstall a Confederate memorial statue in Arlington National Cemetery. Erected in 1914, it elided over the evils of slavery and even extolled the Black “mammy” who cared for her white slaveholder’s children.

For decades, as a Washington Post reporter and since, my writing has often highlighted the Black experience, in history and more recently. For Juneteenth. I invite you to read some of what I’ve written that is available on this website, linked from the Articles tab under Race Matters and Book Reviews. The articles appeared in publications including The Washington Post, Bethesda Magazine, and The New York Times. Some headlines with links are below.

Book Reviews:

On Juneteenth

A Madman’s Will: John Randolph, 400 Slaves, and the Mirage of Freedom

The Rise and Fall of the Second American Republic

The Failed Promise: Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson


The crucial absentee ballots that ended slavery in Maryland 156 years ago

‘A Shameful Affair’: The Last Man Lynched in Montgomery County, Md.


For eight years, from 2005 to 2013, I wrote a “Hidden Maryland” column for Maryland Life magazine, which published its last issue in July 2013.  Several columns were about Black life, now and then. The digital archive died with the magazine, but I have published columns, features and profiles in Hidden Maryland: In Search of America in Miniature, which is available in paperback, as an e-book and as an audio book. The Kindle version is only $4.99.

Also available is my book Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army, which Amazon is offering at a 26 percent discount for $19.98.  First published in 2018, the book tells the still largely unknown story of five Black men who went with John Brown to Harpers Ferry in October 1859. In blogs on this website, I have reported on the fallout from its publication, including a state highway plaque memorializing one of the men Dangerfield Newby and his wife Harriet, and the discovery that Osborne Perry Anderson, the sole survivor who wrote the only inside account of the raid, was a dad. In addition, I was honored that the American Society of Journalists and Authors named Five for Freedom the best book of biography in 2019. Black history is American history, and, until we all accept that, we will never get past the country’s original sin of slavery and reach the aspirational goal where out of many be one. the battle has been joined, but it has not yet been won. To me, that is the essential lesson and legacy of the five men–Osborne Perry Anderson, John Anthony Copeland, Shields Green, Lewis Leary and Dangerfield Newby. They died to make us free, but the struggle continues.

On the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 13, I will be speaking with two National Park Service rangers about Anderson, whose book “A Voice from Harper’s Ferry,” first published in 1861, the Harpers Ferry Park Association has recently reprinted with an introduction I was honored to be asked to write. Details to come.



  1. Carrie Cowherd on June 19, 2024 at 3:23 pm

    Thanks. You have done a lot of important and interesting work. I fear that left to their own devices, some would also enslave white women and girls this time. In addition to ramifications of Dobbs, the end of no-fault divorce, legal spousal abuse, and the end of women’s suffrage are being passed or proposed in some states. And ending Affirmation Action is not aimed solely at black folks. Cheers.

  2. Jon Jeter on June 26, 2024 at 1:37 am

    Gene, I just stumbled on your blog today and absolutely love it, especially what you wrote about Janet Cooke. Reminds me of how much knowledge you used to drop in the PG office at the Post. Also, downloading your books which I was not aware you had written.

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