Juneteenth History: An Independence Day for African Americans

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

Revised and updated from the original 2020 article.

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 Tyre Nichols, Timothy McCree Johnson, 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. In 2021 under the Biden administration, Juneteenth became a nationally recognized; a result of the protest surrounding George Floyd’s death and the racial reckoning movement of 2020-2021. 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)


  1. I chose this article because it’s surprising how many people (including myself) are unfamiliar with the true history behind the recently official established holiday, Juneteenth. I had always known that it existed, and I knew the basic premise of the holiday. This article does a good job of going more in depth about what it is, the history behind it, and why it’s important.

  2. I chose this article because I was not that knowledgeable about Juneteenth. I learned about the importance of the holiday. I found it surprising that 3 states in the US still do not recognize the holiday. I am going to be a teacher when I’m older, so I plan to read up on the Juneteenth lesson plans and incorporate it into my curriculum for it is an important thing to learn about no matter what age.

  3. I decided to read this article since I have very little knowledge of this holiday. Of course, I have learned about the Emancipation proclamation in school. However, I had never been taught this tradition, unlike the traditions of the pilgrims and early European Americans. As sad as that is it seems to be a normal thing. I am currently studying to be a History Teacher and learning that these traditions aren’t shared is sad and something needs to change. History should not be taught from one side and only show the good things.

  4. I enjoyed reading “Juneteenth History: An Independence Day for African Americans” because it contained many important facts about this holiday. I was unaware of the people who contributed to his holiday but I am happy I learned about the significant of it in America. I also think this article will help me mainly because I am an elementary education major. It is important to be aware of different holidays in other cultures so we can best speak on them and listen!

  5. I chose to respond to this because I am an early childhood educator working in an African American school, and I had not been educated on Juneteenth. I was aware of the meaning behind it but this article shared so many new historical facts I had not known previously. My education not discussing holidays as such shows the white supremacy in our school systems. Using these lesson plans in my classroom I can break that cycle. The current curriculum at my district introduces slavery only as an anecdote in woman’s suffrage from a white persons point of view. It is important my students understand their history inclusively.

  6. Not only Is this article packed with historical facts about the holiday, but it also highlights how recent this holiday was recognized. I have been ignorantly unaware of this holiday until fairly recently, when a friend asked why they have June 19th off of work. I replied with, “Oh, that’s Juneteenth.” Which they replied with, “What’s that?” It was then I realized how uninformed I was on the holiday, only being able to give the answer of Freedom Day for African Americans. Joe Biden’s administration designating it as a national holiday mark an important step toward American’s becoming more educated on African American experiences and the on-going work required to address systemic racism. I also found it interesting that Juneteenth originated from Texas, 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Even after the legal end of enslavement, systemic injustice continued then as it continues now. Now that I know more about the holiday I feel a lot m ore respect around the day and it’s importance to the nation.

  7. I decided to read this article because it was not only posted recently, but also because Juneteenth is coming up and I think it’s an important holiday for people to know about. In all honesty, I didn’t know its history was so deep, having started back when slaves had been freed. I’m glad I know now. I am also glad Biden made it a nationally recognized holiday, as I feel like that was a great step in the right direction. It is a day that deserves to be celebrated by everyone. As a current pre-k teacher, I will definitely be using the resources provided in this article during the week of Juneteenth.

  8. I found this entry to be very interesting to read. When Juneteenth was introduced as a national holiday in 2021, I was very confused as to what it was, and how we could just all of a sudden introduce a new holiday. After reading this entry, I learned that it had always been celebrated, but just became nationally recognized after the death of George Floyd. This entry was a very interesting read, as it opened my eyes to the history of Juneteenth, and the origination of the holiday, as well as common celebrations of the holiday. With the holiday coming up, I now understand more fully what the holiday is and why it is an important day to observe.

  9. I think I only became aware of Juneteenth in the 20teens, I don’t remember exactly. I do however remember going to google to learn more and the information I saw then gave a much more modern date for it’s recognition, which to me seems like another example of white America not understanding black history. It is hard to grasp the idea that it took months and years for this information to spread and you have to wonder what things were suffered while still enslaved. The more I’m made aware of holidays or celebrations that come from the minoritized group, the less I understand why it is so upsetting to some in the dominant group. I love being able to learn more about things I was unaware of, especially when they are so meaningful to another group’s culture. White America has the tendency to look at power of influence, or even compassion, like it’s pie. They think if someone else is getting more than they used to then they must have taken it from them, but that’s not how it works. I don’t know how to reverse that thinking but I do believe we should not slow down for it.

  10. Oof, that smarts seeing that Kentucky was one of the last Union states to participate in slavery. (I wasn’t born nor raised in Kentucky, but I have been here long enough now to feel a connection to it.) To be totally candid, I can’t recall ever having heard of Juneteenth until the Biden administration’s recognition of it as a national holiday. This article was definitely enlightening, and I think it is interesting that Juneteenth doesn’t celebrate the date of the Emancipation Proclamation, but the delivery of the news instead (although it is fairly obvious that THAT would be the important date to those receiving the news). Finally, it seems somewhat natural that Juneteenth wouldn’t be celebrated in Hawaii, considering how far disconnected they are from many of the issues in the continental US, but it’s confusing that North and South Dakota don’t celebrate the day, and I am going to do more research on my own about that.

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