By Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
Much of the social studies education we received in the United States has omitted significant information about the history and culture of people of color. Indeed the stories of Native Americans, Hispanics and African Americans have been strangely absent from American textbooks. Furthermore, cultural traditions and holidays valued by the black community have not been adequately explored in many public schools. One such holiday is Juneteenth. Most people have only just recently begun hearing about the holiday. With the slayings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery by the hand of law enforcement, Americans have begun delving more into the study of Black history. Due to the legacy of White Supremacy and racism, only ideas and concepts valued by European Americans have been privileged. This article will discuss this important African American holiday that has been pushed to the periphery for too long. In the last section we offer resources and lesson plans for teachers on the topic of Juneteenth.
Historical Background of Juneteenth
Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. It is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day. The holiday originated in Texas, but is now celebrated throughout the United States annually on June 19. Most states legally recognize the holiday, and momentum is mounting to make it nationally recognized; a result of the protest surrounding George Floyd’s death. Juneteenth commemorates the day when Union army general Gordon Granger “announced federal orders in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, proclaiming that all slaves in Texas were free.” In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln had already passed the Emancipation Proclamation that officially outlawed slavery in states in rebellion against the Union. The challenge was that enforcement of the Proclamation generally relied on the advance of Union troops. Texas was the most remote southern state and therefore had a low amount of Union troops by the end of the Civil War. As a result, Texas received Granger’s announcement from troops well after the war had ended. “Black Texans learned of their freedom two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered and ended the Civil War and two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.” Juneteenth is commonly thought of as a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. However, the practice was still legal and practiced in the two Union border states of Delaware and Kentucky “until December 6, 1865, when ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished non-penal slavery nationwide.”
History of Junteenth Celebrations
Juneteenth celebrations date to 1866, and were originally church-centered community gatherings in Texas. “It spread across the South and became more commercialized in the 1920’s and 1930’s, often centering on a food festival. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, it was eclipsed by the struggle for postwar civil rights, but grew in popularity again in the 1970’s with a focus on African American freedom and arts. By the 21st century, Juneteenth was celebrated in most major cities across the United States… Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states that do not recognize Juneteenth.” Modern Juneteenth celebrations are primarily local, often involving public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation and black literature and singing traditional songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Celebrations also include “rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, and Miss Juneteenth contests. The Mascogos, descendants of Black Seminoles, who escaped from U.S. slavery in 1852 and settled in Coahuila, Mexico, also celebrate Juneteenth.”
Educators often struggle to find meaningful ways of integrating African American culture and history into their curriculum. Often African American history is merely an afterthought within the context of American history classrooms. The addition of the topic of Juneteenth can add rich materials to the classroom. We have included some educational resources below to help teachers approach the subject in a more meaningful way.
Lesson Plans and Resources for Teachers
Teaching Juneteenth- Teaching Tolerance Resource
Celebrate Juneteenth Lesson Plan- Read, Write, Think
Juneteenth Lesson Plans
Juneteenth Freedom Day
Juneteenth History Lesson Plan
Juneteenth Lesson Plan- K-8
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom- Curriculum Guide
Juneteenth Jamboree- Children’s Book
So You Want to Learn About Juneteenth?- New York Times
The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth- National Museum of African American History and Culture (Smithsonian)
By Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.