Skip to content


Annette Gordon-Reed

  • “On Juneteenth”: Annette Gordon-Reed’s Ode To Emancipation Joy

    September 1, 2021

    Tom's guest on this archived edition of Midday is the author and historian Annette Gordon Reed. She is best-known for her study of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. Her book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, won sixteen book prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Her latest book is a beautiful peroration on the meaning of the holiday known as Juneteenth, which marks the anniversary of a significant historical event: on June 19th, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas, declaring that all slaves were free, two months after General Robert E Lee had surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S Grant in Appomattox, Virginia. Juneteenth celebrations of this belated emancipation originated among African American communities in Texas, and now take place around the country.

  • On the Trail Blazed by W.E.B. Du Bois

    August 31, 2021

    Annette Gordon-Reed, interviewed by Nawal Arjini: “Writing, teaching, activism, organizing—he did everything. And I feel a responsibility, or desire, to reach as many people as I can with my writing that grows out of my interest in the Black struggle.”

  • Three banners hanging outside between columns on Langdell Hall. Two read Harvard Law School. Middle one reads Veritas and Lex Et Iustitia.

    Harvard Law School unveils new shield

    August 27, 2021

    The new Harvard Law emblem is the result of extensive consultations by a working group of students, faculty, staff, and alumni led by Professor Annette Gordon-Reed.

  • Annette Gordon-Reed portrait

    ‘Truth, law, and justice are so important to Harvard Law School’s mission’

    August 23, 2021

    Annette Gordon-Reed ’84 discusses how the Shield Working Group approached its task, what she and other members learned from extensive focus groups about HLS’ distinguishing features, and how the new shield reflects the mission, values, and diversity of Harvard Law School.

  • Books aligned on window sill with a seaside sunset background.

    Harvard Law faculty summer 2021 book recommendations

    July 1, 2021

    Looking for a new book to enjoy at the beach, park, or on your couch? Six HLS faculty members share what they’re reading this summer. 

  • Shining a light on Juneteenth

    June 14, 2021

    Annette Gordon-Reed ’84 revisits the complex history of her home state of Texas and shares stories of the holiday first celebrated and cherished by many there

  • Illustration set in forest. A red while and blue quilt on the ground which shows the state of Texas and below it roots in red white and blue

    A Sense of Place

    June 11, 2021

    In the newly published “On Juneteenth,” Gordon-Reed presents a 360-degree view of the history leading up to the holiday and beyond, weaving in her perspective as a Black woman with Texas roots that run deep.

  • The Best Books of 2021 So Far

    May 28, 2021

    Some of the best books of the year so far provide welcome respite from the outside world—while others aim directly for the turbulence, providing frameworks to understand how the past informs our present. Michelle Zauner crafts a devastating tribute to her late mother, circling universal themes of grief. Torrey Peters examines what makes a family in her refreshing debut novel. And Annette Gordon-Reed explores the history behind Juneteenth, offering a comprehensive account of the holiday and its place in our culture. Here, the best books of 2021 so far...On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read out a declaration telling the enslaved people in Texas that they were finally emancipated, two long months after Appomattox. Juneteenth was a day long-celebrated by many Black communities in Texas and across America, but only in the past year or two has it become a more widely recognized holiday. In her slim but potent book, Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning historian and Harvard professor Annette Gordon-Reed explores the story of that day and all the ways that Black and Native people’s lives have been obscured in culture. As a Texas native, Gordon-Reed offers a book that is both profound and personal in its exploration of the ways history shapes our lives and becomes distorted and reinvigorated over time.

  • Annette Gordon-Reed on Texas history and growing up there in the ’60s and ’70s

    May 17, 2021

    While the story of her home state is a large part of the focus of historian Annette Gordon-Reed’s latest work, “On Juneteenth,” it is also a very personal project. Gordon-Reed’s new, 144-page book is named for the holiday commemorating the moment when news of legalized slavery’s end in the U.S. finally reached African Americans in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 — about 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation. A blend of history and memoir, it shines a light on some of her early experiences in the segregationist South — she became the first Black student to attend a white school in her town — and how the country’s largest state “has always embodied nearly every major aspect of the story of the United States of America.” Gordon-Reed, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor, is famed for her groundbreaking “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy” (1997), in which she showed that the nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, had fathered the children of Sally Hemings, a woman he enslaved. Her 2008 follow-up, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” chronicled the lives of Hemings and her children, earned her a Pulitzer Prize in history and a National Book Award. The Gazette recently spoke with Gordon-Reed about her latest work.

  • Annette Gordon-Reed Explores the Tangled Meaning of Juneteenth

    May 12, 2021

    In the historic Black neighborhood where I grew up in Dallas, a parade would roll off the lot of New Mount Zion Baptist Church on June 19, or the Saturday closest to it, and wend its way through a community where many of the streets were named for institutions and people central to Black history: Oberlin and Ebony. Bellafonte and Dandridge. Bunche and Campanella...Growing up, though, I heard many people—relatives from Out West, recent transplants from Up North, Black elites eager to distance themselves from supposedly backward cousins—mock our parades and picnics as sad testimonials to being late and last...The answer, as the historian Annette Gordon-Reed explains in her new book On Juneteenth (Liveright/W. W. Norton + Company), is that Juneteenth was never about commemorating a delayed proclamation but about celebrating a people’s enduring spirit, before and after General Granger’s decree... In On Juneteenth, Gordon-Reed, an East Texas native, confesses to feeling slightly annoyed to discover that people outside Texas celebrate the holiday. For her, the “twinge of possessiveness” grew from a belief in Texas exceptionalism drummed into natives at birth. “Non-Texans could never really understand what the events that took place in Texas actually meant,” she writes. Her “proprietary attitude” passed soon enough. After all, Black Texans such as Fort Worth activist Opal Lee have campaigned to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, and East Texas congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee reintroduced the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in February.

  • Annette Gordon-Reed’s Surprising Recollections of Texas

    May 10, 2021

    Almost every memoir could fairly be subtitled “The Education of.…” Some explicitly embrace the formulation; “The Education of Henry Adams” is the second most influential memoir in American letters, after Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. “On Juneteenth,” Annette Gordon-Reed’s insightful, often touching reflection on the Black experience in Texas, starting with her own, lands between these two: less arch than Adams, more historical than Franklin. Gordon-Reed’s historical emphasis, like Adams’s, is partly a professional matter. Adams was a distinguished historian at the beginning of the 20th century. Gordon-Reed has earned acclaim as one of the most important American historians of our time. Her 2008 “The Hemingses of Monticello” won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. Gordon-Reed’s education included an awakening to the complexity of human existence. Many people look to history for lessons applicable to the present; they seek a “usable past,” in the words of Van Wyck Brooks. The simpler the lessons — that is, the more reducible to adage or slogan — the more usable they are. But simplicity comes at a cost to historical accuracy. Historians recognize this; for them the appeal is in the complexity. Time and again in this slim volume, Gordon-Reed notes her discovery that the past is more complicated than she had imagined.

  • Black America’s Neglected Origin Stories

    May 6, 2021

    A story by Annette Gordon-Reed: When I was growing up in Conroe, Texas, about 40 miles north of Houston, my classmates and I took Texas history twice, in the fourth and seventh grades. We learned about Texas’s history in the United States, its previous existence as a republic, and its time as a province of Mexico. Among other things, we were exhorted to “remember the Alamo” and “remember Goliad,” famous events in Texas’s fight for independence from Mexico. Some other aspects of the state’s history were less covered. I didn’t need school lessons to tell me that Black people had been enslaved in Texas, but in the early days of my education, the subject was not often mentioned. Some of our lessons did, however, involve the “period of Spanish exploration.” And I remember hearing in those lessons stray references to a man of African descent—a “Negro” named Estebanico—who traveled throughout what would become Texas. Estebanico was described, according to Andrés Reséndez’s book A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, as a “black Arab from Azamor,” on the coast of Morocco. A Muslim, he had been forced to convert to Christianity and sold away from his home to Spain; he eventually found his way to Texas in the company of the famous explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. He arrived in the area of the future Galveston, where Union General Gordon Granger would proclaim the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery in Texas more than 300 years later, on the day now known as Juneteenth. Estebanico’s journey across Texas as an interpreter for Cabeza de Vaca made him one of the first people of African descent to enter the historical record in the Americas.

  • Annette Gordon-Reed: History teaches us about change over time

    May 5, 2021

    Professor and author Annette Gordon-Reed continues her week-long discussion on Morning Joe of the themes in her new book 'On Juneteenth'.

  • On Juneteenth

    April 30, 2021

    What's up with Texas? Austin, the blue capital of the red state, is named for a Southern slaveholder, the acclaimed “Father of Texas,” who brought 300 families and their human chattel with him to extend the South’s peculiar institution into the area we now call the American Southwest. The banners honored in the Texas-based Six Flags Theme Parks’ name include two — the Republic of Texas and the Confederate States of America — from entities that sought not only to preserve slavery, but to enshrine it in perpetuity. And the “heroes” of the Alamo died not to free themselves from despotic Mexican rule, as is often portrayed in our mythology, but, as Mexico was moving toward abolition, to make their newly occupied land forever unfree for the enslaved workers who allowed them to prosper as the plantocracy of East Texas. In On Juneteenth, Harvard historian Annette Gordon-Reed grapples with the myths and contradictions of her beloved home state — a place that once subjugated, segregated, and lynched Black people (including in her home county) and remains ruled by politicians determined to suppress the hard-won votes of minorities and maintain their own power even as demographics inevitably shift.

  • ‘It’s Something Bigger’: This New Platform Is Reimagining The Role Of News Media In Eradicating Racism

    April 26, 2021

    During the abolitionist movement of the 19th century, journalists were among those leading the charge to eradicate slavery. Two centuries later, they’re continuing to inspire change, with leaders at the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research and the Boston Globe teaming up to apply the same pressure to ongoing racial injustice. The result: The Emancipator, a platform cofounded by author, historian and Boston University Center for Antiracist Research director Ibram X. Kendi and Boston Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman that will spotlight antiracism practices through the multimedia work of journalists, historians and scholars. Content will include written stories, research and interactive events like roundtables...The team has also recruited an advisory board of journalists and scholars, including the New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, Harvard historian and author Annette Gordon-Reed, journalist and immigration rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas and The 19th CEO and editor-in-chief Emily Ramshaw. Members of the founding team also include Dr. Monica Wang, associate director of narrative for the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, and Kimberly Atkins, Boston Globe columnist and MSNBC contributor.

  • The Historian Annette Gordon-Reed Gets Personal in ‘On Juneteenth’

    April 21, 2021

    The historian Annette Gordon-Reed’s “On Juneteenth” is an unexpected book. She’s best known for her work on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman with whom Jefferson had multiple children — a once controversial thesis that’s now accepted as historical fact in large part because of Gordon-Reed’s scholarship. She has written before about the need for historians to maintain a certain distance from the people they write about, to see “the complexity and contradictions” that might otherwise get crushed in an overzealous embrace. In “On Juneteenth,” Gordon-Reed identifies quite closely with her subject — and only a sliver of the book is directly about Juneteenth itself. But if this book is a departure for her, it’s still guided by the humane skepticism that has animated her previous work. In a series of short, moving essays, she explores “the long road” to June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in Texas, the state where Gordon-Reed was born and raised.

  • The Tensions That Roiled Texas

    April 14, 2021

    Loeb University Professor Annette Gordon-Reed is best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning history, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. Her slender new book, On Juneteenth (Liveright / W.W. Norton, $15.95), is part history, part memoir and meditation on her own growing up in Texas, the original home to Juneteenth — the commemoration of the June 19, 1865, proclamation that slavery had ended in that state, and of late, a nationally recognized and now Harvard official holiday. She sets the stage with a brisk overview of the historical state.

  • FDR SCOTUS editorial cartoon

    Is the Supreme Court broken?

    March 25, 2021

    Is the Supreme Court in crisis, and if so, how can it be fixed? Three distinguished Court-watchers from across the ideological spectrum debated these questions at the Harvard Law School Rappaport Forum, a recurring speaker series established last year thanks to a gift from the Phyllis & Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation.

  • 400 years of the African American experience, told by a ‘choir’ of Black voices

    February 8, 2021

    Along with books about Donald Trump, the biggest story in the publishing industry last year was “the racism reading list.” As millions took to the streets to protest the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black people senselessly killed by police, books about the history of race and racism in America shot to the top of bestseller lists. So voracious was this sudden hunger for education about the roots of our latest racial reckoning that a clever marketer might have thought to commission a version of CliffsNotes for the curriculum. As it turns out, two authors on that reading list were already on the case. In 2019, the award-winning authors Ibram X. Kendi (“How to Be an Anti-Racist”) and Keisha N. Blain (“Set the World on Fire”) began approaching other prominent Black writers to collaborate on a group history of the African American experience. Two years later, the co-editors have produced a volume of 80 short essays that is highly readable and far more compelling than a mere historical digest would have been. The book’s title, “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019,” refers to the 400 years since the first African slave ship, the White Lion, arrived in the colony of Virginia in 1619 — as well as to the collective spiritual journey traveled in that time span. The structure is both chronological and thematic, with each author covering a different topic over a five-year period, usually in 2,000 words or less. The contributors include renowned scholars (Annette Gordon-Reed, Molefi Kete Asante), Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists (Isabel Wilkerson, Nikole Hannah-Jones), nationally known activists (the Rev. William J. Barber II, Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund) and living legends of the Black struggle (Angela Y. Davis).

  • How do we get to a more stable democracy? 6 writers chart a course

    January 21, 2021

    As soon as the videos began streaming in on Jan. 6, it became clear that the nation was experiencing something unprecedented and dangerous but also, in many ways, unsurprising. The storming of the Capitol in the service of false conspiracy theories had no single cause, and no single Biden executive order can undo the threats and divisions it exposed. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to ferret out the causes and game out solutions to America’s disinformation crisis. The Times gathered six writers who have been examining these issues for years...Annette Gordon-Reed: “I would add the loss in status of whites, particularly white males. The talk about political correctness is a cover for this deep concern about a loss of status. Income inequality is part of it, but there’s a group of people like the lawyer couple standing on their lawn with the guns — that just feel lost. The New York Times asked a group of people to suggest books for President Biden. I suggested W.E.B. DuBois’ ‘Black Reconstruction,’ because we’re in a moment where there are people who fear the growing political power of minority groups and Black groups in particular. And this has been a problem from the era that I studied, the early American Republic: Who are the folks who count? One thing that could be done about it would be for the government to actually be efficient, to actually work. We’ve become anti-government since the 1980s. And we have this entity that we pay taxes to that’s not supposed to do anything.” ... Martha Minow: “The Republican Party in particular for 50 years has bet on these divisions. We’ve seen this, sadly, in other countries where there are the ingredients of status anxiety and economic inequality. The question is, what do the leaders do? If leaders appeal to those fears and amplify them, that is a toxic environment. I hate to be grandiose about it, but that has given rise to genocides.”

  • ‘Celebrating America’ – A PBS NewsHour inauguration special

    January 21, 2021

    PBS NewsHour is taking a closer look at Inauguration Day with our special, "Celebrating America." Anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff breaks down the historic day with White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, Washington Post senior critic Robin Givhan, filmmaker Ken Burns and Annette Gordon-Reed, a historian and law professor at Harvard University.