A Brief History of Juneteenth: Including Resources for Teachers and Home School Parents

Savannah, Statesboro, Bluffton Join Juneteenth Holiday Movement (https://www.wsav.com/news/local-news/town-of-bluffton-declares-juneteenth-town-holiday/)

By Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Introduction
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
Celebrating Juneteenth
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)

14 Comments

  1. I love the idea of Juneteenth, and celebrating American history.More holidays and fun cookouts! From what I can tell, it has a negative perception among a few people. The other day, I was conversing over dinner with my family and one of the main complaint was “They get black history month AND a Juneteenth? Both events celebrate slavery, right?”. I tried to explain that it was similar to celebrating Columbus day. A day that celebrates a pivotal moment in history. Although, Columbus day is being questioned for accuracy, I think it’s a good comparison.

    I do have a question about Juneteenth. Is there a goal for celebrating? Is it to raise awareness? Is it to give African-Americans a prominent day to celebrate? Plain old fun?

  2. I personally haven’t heard of Juneteenth, which seems crazy to me since it seems to be such an important/ dramatic day in history. This is a holiday that celebrates freedom to all those enslaved within the United States. The holiday is celebrated on June 19th and was originally from Texas but now is celebrated all over the U.S. This is America’s history and should be celebrated despite the negative perception it seems to hold. I just question to why this isn’t talked about within school? This seems to be a very important day in history, considering it is “Freedom Day” for slaves across the United States. This is a huge turn/pivotal moment in history and I proudly support this holiday.

  3. Until this year I never heard of Juneteeth, which I found to be very shocking since it was such an important date in history. Its also called Emancipation Day, the day celebrates freedom of those ensalved in America. I believe this day should be celebrate. I would love to see this holiday be celebrated by all races just like the Fourth of July. This day marks are huge turning point in America, and I believe our lack of knowledge to this date goes to show the systemic racism that is built into the educational institutions in America.

  4. To be honest, until recently I did not know what Juneteenth was. I think my lack of knowledge of this holiday shows that I need to educate myself further on different cultures and their rituals and practices. It speaks volumes that a college educated woman can know nothing of such an important piece of history. It’s time to come to terms with my own privilege. It’s not enough to dislike racism, I must work towards the change. I appreciated this article explaining what Juneteenth is, how it can to be, and what it represents.

  5. This article is a great resource to educate those on this holiday. Growing up in school though a summer holiday we never learned about. I remember when I got my first iphone I saw this holiday in the calender and I did my own research about this day. I think this is something that needs to be taught in schools and this article would be a great way to introduce it to students of all ages.

  6. Prior to reading this article I had only heard of the holiday Juneteenth on the news and I still didn’t fully know what it was. After reading the article I understand the importance of this holiday and the meaning of it. When I was in Elementary, Middle, and High school I don’t ever remember hearing or learning about Juneteenth. The resources and lessons plans will definitely help to better educate people about this topic and when people get older they will be able to understand the history that isn’t talked about as much as it should be.

  7. Honestly, I did not know about Juneteenth until recently. Therefore, I didn’t know it celebrated the emancipation of slaved people in the U.S. I am glad African American people get to celebrate this holiday as part of remembering how far they have come after slavery ended. I only wish that no more situations like the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Abmaud Arbery, keep happening in order to create awareness and for non-African Americans to take interest on issues that affect African American more than it should.
    I hope this holiday gets to be a part of the school’s curriculums and younger generations get to know more about the situations African Americans lived which at the end are part of American history

  8. I’ve heard a lot about Juneteenth lately as it was just passed as a holiday in Kentucky by Governor Beshear but before seeing the news articles recently, I had not one clue to what this holiday was because I had never heard of it. I feel like this holiday needs to be more known as it is based on an important piece of history, but in most cases isn’t taught in schools. Learning about this holiday will allow people to know more about African American holiday and hopefully will encourage them to want to gain more knowledge on the holidays. The resources will really help future educators in developing lessons about this holiday, so that more people will know down the road.

  9. African American history and Juneteenth in particular have been in the news frequently this summer, giving many Americans an opportunity to look into a subject that they may otherwise not have. I had never heard of Juneteenth until this summer and was interested to look into the history and significance of the holiday. I was surprised that I had never learned about this holiday, as I felt my high school discussed African American history fairly often. Never-the-less the story of Juneteenth is an interesting one and a very significant event in our country’s history. 

  10. I did not learn about Junteenth at all in school. Which i find absurd i might add.it was not till my first bachelors degree in history i discovered it in my own personal studies. That in my opinion is unacceptable no one should stumble on such a pivotal day. Junteenth should be celebrated and taught and i hope it becomes a common place in schools.

  11. I went to school in a primarily white suburban school district and we never learned about Juneteenth. It really bothered me that I didn’t learn about it until college. It really should be a national holiday and it is a crucial day in American history. This article was very informative and helped me understand the importance of the holiday.

  12. I am really embarrassed to admit that I had no idea Juneteenth even existed until the recent BLM movement. I found this article to be very informative and beneficial for me to read. I cannot wait to use the resources from this article to teach my students about African American culture and celebrate such an important part of history.

  13. I found this really interesting because I never learned about this in school growing up and I think it is an important thing for all students to learn about. This article helped me gain a basic understanding of what Juneteenth is. I want to make sure I teach my future students about Juneteenth and how is is a celebration of emancipation of the people who were enslaved. I really liked the Juneteenth Jamboree lesson plan and plan on using it when I am teaching.

  14. I had seen Juneteenth on my calendar on my phone for years but only recently learned what it was. I think we should bring this holiday to light in our classrooms. I also enjoyed the Juneteenth Jamboree lesson plan.

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