WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association President Becky Pringle issued the following statement after President Biden signed into law a bill creating a federal holiday to commemorate Juneteenth, the day marking the end of enslavement in the United States. While our nation currently celebrates July 4th as a day to mark America’s status as an independent nation free from the tyranny of a monarchy, Juneteenth honors the day that Black Americans, some 90 years later, gained their freedom. This law comes on the heels of legislation introduced in 21 states banning the teaching of the true and complete history of the United States, including Juneteenth and other historical perspectives on racism and oppression in this country:
“Republicans and Democrats in Congress came together to recognize the importance of Juneteenth and the freedom and emancipation that the day symbolizes for our nation. While we celebrate this new federal holiday, we also must learn from it, particularly the lessons of struggle, trauma and violence, as well as perseverance, triumph and achievement, that is the lived experience of Black Americans. Ironically, because of some new laws passed in states like Texas—the birthplace of Juneteenth—educators will be stopped from teaching about this new holiday and its importance. That is just wrong. Freedom gained was and is not the end of racism and injustice in this country. To build a more just and equitable future, we must learn from and reflect on our past, and teach accurate history in our schools, so we can discuss and learn from the events that should never be forgotten.
“So, on Juneteenth, we commit ourselves to learn the history of enslavement, emancipation and the continuous struggle to end all forms of discrimination and inequality in our country. We commit ourselves to teaching a full and accurate account of American history, including acts of racism and hate, and their implications. And we commit ourselves to standing hand and hand with our community allies in this fight to ensure that the promise of justice and liberty is a reality for all people.”
“No matter our color, background or ZIP code, we want our kids to have an education that imparts honesty and truth about who we are, integrity in how we treat others, and courage to do what’s right.
“As we celebrate the recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, we do so in the wake of politicians playing politics with the truth, stoking fears about our schools, and trying to dictate what and how teachers teach our students. These are the same politicians who have consistently denied our students resources and demanded sacrifices of our educators.
“As professionals, we—not politicians—know how best to support our students. We know that our students must have the tools and guidance to honestly face and understand our past and present in order to create a better future.”