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Juneteenth is celebrated annually on June 19th, which is where it gets its name from. This historic holiday has been around for more than a century but American textbooks often omit or dismiss it.

Start learning about Juneteenth and its cultural significance so you can celebrate it in your classroom this year!

What is Juneteenth?

Lesson plans for Juneteenth | Lesson plan | Few ways to celebrate Juneteenth
Juneteenth, which is short for June Nineteenth, marks the day that U.S. federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas. They went to ensure that all enslaved African Americans were freed. Juneteenth is also the oldest celebration of the legal end of slavery in the United States.

Other names for Juneteenth are:

  • Juneteenth Independence Day
  • Freedom Day
  • Emancipation Day
  • Jubilee Day
  • Cel-liberation Day
  • Second Independence Day

The Emancipation Proclamation

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This proclamation was to be enacted on January 1, 1863. It said that all enslaved people that seceded from the U.S. during the American Civil War were to be freed.

This meant that slaves in border states and states under Northern control were not to be freed.

While this proclamation paved the way for permanent abolition of slavery, it was not the sole reason slaves were freed.

Two and a half years later in 1865, the Union soldiers would have to take control of Galveston, Texas. This action would help free all remaining enslaved people.

How did Juneteenth start?

Celebrate Juneteenth in the classroom | Young country's past | Freedom day
A year after 1865, newly freed Black people organized an annual celebration of “Jubilee Day” on June 19th in the state of Texas. These community oriented local celebrations included music, prayers, barbecues, traditional dress and other celebratory acts.

As Black people migrated out of Texas to other states, they carried the Juneteenth tradition with them. Soon African American communities and other communities throughout the U.S. were celebrating Juneteenth!

Fun fact: Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth a holiday!

The Civil Rights movement

During the era of World War 2, Juneteenth celebrations largely declined as much of the public’s attention was on wartime efforts.

This changed during the Civil Rights movement, which spanned between the 1950s and 1960s. After Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, his friend Ralph Abernathy led the Poor People’s March that summer.

This march ended in a giant Juneteenth celebration, which helped spread Juneteenth around the country.

How is Juneteenth honored today?

Culturally responsive teaching strategies | Teach students Juneteenth

“Juneteenth, today, celebrates African-American freedom and achievement while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.”

Many hold family gatherings, some make a pilgrimage to Galveston, and some cities hold larger events like parades. Other typical activities include rodeos, fishing, barbecuing, and baseball.

For non-Black individuals, you can celebrate by supporting Black communities whether through buying food from Black-owned restaurants or donating to community organizations.

You can also educate yourself about Black history and social justice through books, shows, podcasts, and more.

Is Juneteenth a federal holiday?

State holiday | Juneteenth class activities | Recognize Juneteenth
Yes, it is!

There have been multiple attempts in the past to recognize Juneteenth as a national day of observance, also known as a federal holiday. Finally, on January 13, 2022, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was signed into law. Juneteenth is now an official holiday!

With this, the United States now has 12 permanent federal holidays.

Here at Scoot, we get the day off to celebrate Juneteenth and reflect on our nation’s history.

How can I celebrate Juneteenth in the classroom?

Juneteenth search topics | Celebrate Juneteenth | Important historical events
Black history is deeply engrained with American history and should be taught year-round. But Juneteenth is a great opportunity to emphasize this important historical event. This is an important time for teaching tolerance and acceptance that all students need to learn.

Here are some great, free resources to share with your students as you begin celebrating Juneteenth!

Videos to watch

  • What is Juneteenth? – This Juneteenth Cartoon that goes over fun facts about this holiday including why it’s celebrated around the US.
  • Juneteenth – All About the Holidays – PBS Learning Media created this short video to introduce kids to Juneteenth.
  • Celebrating Juneteenth – Founding director of the National Museum of African American History & Culture, Smithsonian leads a tour through a Juneteenth exhibition.

Teaching resources to use

  • Teaching Juneteenth – This blog of Juneteenth lessons provides frameworks to help educators both recognize challenges of fighting injustice and celebrate culture, activism, and humanity.
  • Teaching Culture as Resistance – This grades 6-8 lesson plan addresses important questions surrounding what identity is and how society shapes it.
  • Juneteenth – These grades 3-5 lesson plans cover how to describe different identities and respectfully learn about other peoples’ experiences.
The importance of teaching Juneteenth

Anti racism demonstration | Anti racist teaching | Learning plan for Juneteenth
It’s important to give your students the space to explore Juneteenth and the dark history of the United States. We need to learn from past mistakes and atrocities to ensure it never happens again.

While you don’t have to give the gruesome details of the horrors of slavery, you should tell your students that Juneteenth is not just an annual holiday. It’s also a day that many people have given their lives to see celebrated.

It’s also great to know that you can help your Black and African American students feel that they and their history is respected!