Each year on June 19th, Black communities across the country get together to celebrate Juneteenth. Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned they’d be free — two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered and ended the Civil War, and over two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth has long been observed in Texas, and is now a US holiday starting in 2021.
Though Juneteenth is well-known among the African American community, the history of Juneteenth has been marginalized and is largely unknown to the wider public. Most people will associate American independence with the Fourth of July, but Juneteenth is another important day to celebrate independence.
The legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of never giving up hope in moments of uncertainty. Amid such turbulent times as a global pandemic and a reckoning on policing in the US, it’s never been more important to teach your students about Juneteenth. Lessons about Juneteenth should recognize the challenges of people who’ve fought injustice, but they shouldn’t be marked only by the tragedy of slavery. Students, particularly Black students, can find empowerment in the celebrations of culture, activism, and the humanity in people.
To help get you started, here are 7 books you can use to introduce the history of Juneteenth to young learners in grades K-5.