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Teaching Juneteenth and the Meaning of Freedom

Background information and resources for including Juneteenth in your classroom.
Emancipation Day Celebration band, June 19, 1900,Texas University of North Texas Libraries
Emancipation Day Celebration band, June 19, 1900, Texas
Published: May 24, 2023

On June 19, 1865, over 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas were informed that the Civil War was won months earlier and they were finally free. Since then, Juneteenth, also known as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” “Emancipation Day,” "Jubilee Day," or “Freedom Day,” has been celebrated by Black communities. The date became a federal holiday in 2021 after decades of activists' and organizers' hard work to convince our leaders to designate June 19th as a National Independence Day.

Although Juneteenth is commemorated when most K-12 schools are on summer break, it remains a valuable part of our nation's history and an essential reminder of slavery's legacy in the United States, and should be taught within other lessons on American history.

To help educators include it in their curricular materials, we've compiled the following background reading, lessons, and recommended book lists. 

Background Reading and Information

Juneteenth: How and Why It Should Be Taught in K-12 Schools
Sonya Douglass, a professor of education leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University, spoke to Education Week on how and why educators teach about Juneteenth and the broader value for all students in expanding how Black history is taught.

Teaching Juneteenth (Learning for Justice)
The history of Juneteenth acknowledges hard history while also empowering students to be advocates for change.

Juneteenth: Black History for White People
Black History for White People's podcast series dedicates an episode to the history of Juneteenth, sharing some stories from the past, and tying the throughline to why and how people celebrate Juneteenth.

When and How to Talk to Children About Enslavement: Discussion Questions for Educators
This Teaching for Change article suggests questions to "help the early childhood community, families, and social justice activists to get started on this essential discussion.”

Teaching the Hard History of American Slavery
In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center surveyed U.S. high school seniors and social studies teachers and analyzed a selection of state content standards and popular U.S. history textbooks. They found that schools are not adequately teaching the history of American slavery. Access the full report and find links to resources.

Celebrating Juneteenth (for young students)
National Geographic for Kids presents an overview of the history of Juneteenth


BrainPOP presents a short video on the history of Juneteenth, along with classroom activities and discussion questions for elementary students.

Juneteenth Explained
Video-creation software company Vyond created this short, animated video for younger audiences that concisely presents the history of Juneteeth. 

Why Juneteenth is Important for America
The Root released this video about the importance of Juneteenth in 2018. It includes information on the violent backlashBlack Americans faced from white Americans opposing their freedom.

Meet the Grandmother of Juneteenth 
Opal Lee fought for decades to have Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday. Watch her interview on Good Morning America in 2021, after attending the ceremony where President Biden made June 19 a federal holiday.

Lessons & Activities

NMAAHC Kids: Understanding & Celebrating Juneteenth
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture offers a PDF guide to understanding and celebrating Juneteenth for children.

History of Juneteenth and Why it's Now a National Holiday (grades 6-12)
In this this lesson from PBS, students will explore and discuss the history and context around the Juneteenth holiday in the United States. Topics explored include the history of racial injustice in the U.S., the Civil War and the limitations of the Emancipation Proclamation. Additionally, students are encouraged to explore the modern significance of Juneteenth and its long-term impact. 

Teaching Hard Hard History: American Slavery
No discussion or lesson on Juneteenth is complete without an understanding of slavery in the United States. Learning for Justice offers a framework and the ability to build a learning plan around the history of slavery in the United States.

Celebrate Juneteenth!
The National Council of Teachers of English's Read, Write, Think website offers a classroom activity designed around having students compare Juneteenth and the 4th of July using Venn diagramming.

Recommended Books

Books for Students About Juneteenth
Honor the day that Black Americans gained their freedom with these Read Across America recommended titles to help students learn more about the history and traditions of Juneteenth.

Kids Books Read Aloud: Juneteenth for Mazie
Storytime with Little Book Book reads Floyd Cooper's picture book.

For Educators

  • Annette Gordon-Reed, On Juneteenth
  • Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told
  • Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865
  • James Oakes: Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865
  • John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom
  • Ira Berlin, The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States
  • Ira Berlin and others, Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War
  • Edward T. Cotham, Jr., Juneteenth: The Story Behind the Celebration 
  • Lerone Bennett, Jr., Before the Mayflower

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