Today we celebrate Juneteenth.
What is Juneteenth?
It is the oldest African-American holiday, celebrating freedom and honoring the memory of former slaves. You might know that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 and wonder–why do we celebrate on June 19th? The answer is that not all slaves knew they were free in 1863. Many white plantation owners wanted to keep their slaves working after the Emancipation; they wanted to continue making profits from free labor. As Union troops marched across the country, news of Emancipation spread; but it did not reach all slaves. The slaves in the state of Texas were not told about their freedom until Union troops marched to Galveston two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It took two and a half years for the United States to make sure that everyone knew: All slaves are free. That was June 19, 1865.
One year later on June 19, 1866, former slaves gathered to celebrate their freedom with music, worship, barbecue and the sharing of stories. The system of slavery and its aftermath did not permit African-Americans from attending school and learning to write, so the story of Emancipation was spread though oral tradition. Through their retelling, June Nineteenth became shortened to Juneteenth.
How Can I Celebrate Juneteenth?
Today, Juneteenth is a state holiday in Texas and in many other states. Families gather to celebrate their freedom by barbecuing, attending parades, sharing music and telling stories. Many drink red beverages or eat red velvet cake. Red symbolizes the blood shed by former slaves.
Looking for ways to teach your children about Junteenth? Many communities have Juneteenth celebrations with family friendly activities and barbecue. www.juneteenth.com has a place to search for and add Juneteenth celebrations occurring worldwide. My family will first remember history by reading some books we got from our local library and talking about them. Then we will celebrate freedom with barbecue, a baseball game and fun!
Children’s Books about Juneteenth
Juneteenth Jamboree by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Yvonne Buchanan. Published by Lee & Low Books. Check out the Lee & Low site for a classroom guide filled with activities and discussion questions to help teach kids about Juneteenth here.
Juneteenth by Vaunda Michaux Nelson and Drew Nelson, illustrated by Mark Schroder. This book does a wonderful job of teaching the history of slavery with both sensitivity and honesty. The authors describe how slavery began by asking children to imagine themselves in the past, “Imagine that you are playing outside. Suddenly you are captured in a net like an animal. You are packed i the bottom of a ship with many other stolen people.” They go on to describe the basis for the Civil War and the continued struggle of black Americans for equality.
How does your family celebrate Juneteenth?