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Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom

Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day and Jubilee Day, is a significant holiday in the United States that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. This day holds historical importance as it marks the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas on June 19, 1865.

Over the years, Juneteenth has evolved into a nationwide celebration of freedom, equality, and the ongoing fight for social justice. Explore the rich history of Juneteenth and discover engaging activities to help young students better understand and honor this important holiday.

Juneteenth flag with star symbol

Juneteenth Background

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, declared that all slaves in Confederate-held territories would be set free. However, due to various circumstances, the news of freedom reached enslaved African Americans slowly.

On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and proclaimed the emancipation of enslaved people, officially ending slavery in the state. This event became known as “Juneteenth,” combining the words “June” and “nineteenth.”

The first Juneteenth began as “Jubilee Day,” where families celebrated their new freedom. As Black Texans started moving to other parts of the country, sharing their own Juneteenth traditions, the celebration continued growing.

On June 17th, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Juneteenth Celebrations

Juneteenth celebrations emerged as a way for African Americans to honor their ancestors and celebrate their newfound freedom. Traditionally, festivities include parades, musical performances, historical reenactments, art exhibitions, and community gatherings. These celebrations often feature food, storytelling, and educational activities that emphasize the significance of Juneteenth.

Juneteenth Discussion -from Read, Write, Think

Essential Question: How does the historical background of the day, as a celebration of freedom for the slaves of Texas, compare to other important celebrations of freedom in the United States?

Invite students to compare Juneteenth celebrations to Fourth of July celebrations.

  • What events take place on the two days?
  • What do people do?
  • How are the events described in the media?
  • When students notice differences between the celebrations, ask them to hypothesize about the reasons.
  • Ask students what conclusions they can draw about the ways people celebrate and define freedom in the U.S.

Juneteenth Books

Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth

Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” collected more than 1.5 million signatures between 2016 and 2020 for her petition to the U.S. Congress to make June 19th a federal holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. In 2021, when Opal Lee was 94 years old, she stood next to President Joe Biden as he signed the legislation that made her dream come true.

Listen to the author, Alice Faye Duncan, read this inspiring story about a woman who didn’t give up on her dream, and download a Free Educator’s Guide from Helping Kids Rise.

The picture book also includes a recipe for Juneteenth Strawberry Lemonade, a timeline from 1619 to 2021, and additional information about Opal Lee.

Juneteenth for Mazie Mazie is ready to celebrate liberty. She is ready to celebrate freedom. She is ready to celebrate a great day in American history. The day her ancestors were no longer slaves. Mazie remembers the struggles and the triumph, as she gets ready to celebrate Juneteenth.

What is Juneteenth? Author Kirsti Jewel shares stories from Juneteenth celebrations, both past and present, and chronicles the history that led to the creation of this joyous day. Includes 80 black-and-white illustrations and an engaging 16-page photo insert!

Juneteenth Jamboree A young girl, who has just moved to her parents’ hometown, realizes that she has come home after the African American emancipation celebration of Juneteenth.

All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom Through the eyes of one little girl, All Different Now tells the story of the first Juneteenth, the day freedom finally came to the last of the slaves in the South.

The History of Juneteenth This colorfully illustrated story takes kids on an exciting journey through all the events that led up to the first Juneteenth, the day itself, and the impact it had on the future of the United States.

Juneteenth Activities

Historical Research Encourage students to conduct research on Juneteenth, its historical context, and the people involved. They can create short presentations or posters highlighting key events, important figures, and the significance of Juneteenth in American history.

Juneteenth Flag Discuss the symbolism and significance of the Juneteenth flag, which was created by Ben Haith in 1997. Draw and color a Juneteenth flag to display – make it a class mural!

Juneteenth Community Celebration Organize a Juneteenth celebration with student presentations, performances, and/or artwork.

Shop Juneteenth

Browse the Juneteenth Commemorative Collection for hats, totes, shirts, mugs, posters, notebooks, and more! -National Museum of African American History & Culture