Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19th, commemorates the moment when emancipation finally reached the most isolated parts of the South, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s a celebration of freedom — and a recognition of justice delayed and work yet to be done.
Juneteenth has been celebrated as a second Independence Day in the Black community for a long time; however, this significant day has not traditionally been a part of the history taught in America’s classrooms. While some teachers have made Juneteenth a part of their classrooms for years, many teachers and students want Juneteenth officially added to the curriculum.
In the Classroom
By making Juneteenth part of their curriculum, teachers are introducing their students to the horrific realities surrounding our country’s history with slavery and how it affects our society today. For example: traditionally, lessons around slavery often highlight how the US Government granted enslaved people their freedom. In doing so, these lessons fail to acknowledge the role that enslaved people played in their own emancipation through everyday acts of resistance.
Learning for Justice writer Coshandra Dillard points out that, “The overall narrative goes something like this: America overcame slavery, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. helped usher in new civil rights laws, and then we elected the first Black president.” However, this story, simplified down to suggest there was continual progress, removes the critical nuance of the Black experience, and makes it difficult for students to see and understand the effects of racism that still exist in today’s society.
Honoring & Celebrating
Throughout the years, despite efforts to stop or disrupt Juneteenth celebrations, Black communities have commemorated the day by honoring the progress they’ve made and reveling in Black Joy. Former educator and two-time winner of the Diversity Teacher of the Year award, Ann-Katherine Kimble, discusses the importance of celebrating Black Joy, saying:
“…we have a flame that — though it may flicker — never fully extinguishes. That light is our joy. That joy is an act of resistance against systems of oppression. Even on plantations, you could hear us rejoicing. In this original “melting pot” — full of people stolen and transported like goods, coming from African kingdoms, with hundreds of dialects and customs — you could hear rejoicing in the midst of oppression and inequity.”
Celebrating Juneteenth puts Black culture — past, present and future — in the spotlight and gives the Black community and allies a chance to celebrate together.
- Teaching Juneteenth: Learning for Justice has put together a framework for teaching Juneteenth that you can add to a learning plan
- This is Why Juneteenth Is Important for America: This short video by The Root gives a quick introduction to how Juneteenth was born and the backlash that followed.
- Celebrate Juneteenth: This classroom activity invites students to compare Juneteenth celebrations to 4th of July celebrations and discuss.
- Get digital and lyrical: DonorsChoose teachers often create projects giving them access to sites like Brain Pop, Newsela and Flocabulary, which have digital and hip hop lessons on the meaning of Juneteenth.
- Books about Black History and Black Culture: For Juneteenth, many teachers create projects that pull together books about black history and about black culture to give their students an opportunity to explore the devastating parts of our history while celebrating the people who left a legacy. If you’re looking for inspiration, check out these projects: Celebrating Juneteenth, by Ms. Davis and Representation Matters by Ms. Scheele.
Ready to help teachers celebrate Juneteenth with their class? Give to a Juneteenth-related project!
Teachers: Are you ready to bring Juneteenth into your classroom? Right now, you can earn a $100 DonorsChoose gift code by completing Google’s Applied Digital Skills Create a Flyer for a Juneteenth Celebration lesson with at least 15 of your students, while funds last!