Celebrating Juneteenth

Juneteenth, celebrated June 19, marks the day enslaved Texans learned they were free in June of 1865. While the history of the holiday includes the injustice of enslavement, Juneteenth should also be understood in the context of Black people’s fight for justice and freedom. As Staff Writer Coshandra Dillard notes, “Students, particularly Black students, can find empowerment in the jubilant celebrations of culture, activism and the humanity of a people.”

Each year around June 19, Black communities across the country unite for a family reunion of sorts. Juneteenth activities feature the sights and sounds of Blackness: People enjoying art, music and food that connect them to a shared ancestry and history. They celebrate being their authentic selves. They celebrate freedom in both solemn and festive ceremonies.

This celebration marks a day in 1865 when enslaved Texans learned they’d be free—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. Initially a uniquely Texan observance, Juneteenth has now been recognized in some form in every corner of the country.

There are many ways to teach students about this celebration. Lessons about Juneteenth need to recognize the challenges those who fight injustice have always faced, but they shouldn’t be marked only by the tragedy of enslavement. Students, particularly Black students, can find empowerment in the jubilant celebrations of culture, activism and the humanity of a people.

Excerpt with permission of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.  www.tolerance.org
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