Juneteenth, the Black celebration of the day the last slaves learned of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, is quickly emerging as a local and state holiday honoring the freedom, struggles and inalienable rights of our nation’s African Americans.
By the time Union Troops reached the coastal confederate stronghold of Galveston, in southeastern Texas on June 19, 1865, the Civil War had been over for more than 60 days; President Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation had been assassinated; and four million Blacks who had formerly been in bondage, were free.
But the many slaves on the cotton plantations of Texas still had no clue.
Juneteenth marks the jubilation and joy of these slaves in learning they were finally free.
A celebration of survival and freedom, the holiday marks that fact that Black people survived the horrors and cruel inhumanity of slavery. And, in shedding the shackles of oppression as we toil for our rightful emancipation, we remember those who have perished in the 6,400 American lynchings since the ending of the Civil War, the victims of police brutality, as well as the struggle for voting rights and equality in the criminal justice system.
For decades, many communities across New York State have had wonderful “Juneteenth” celebrations, with New York City’s, Buffalo’s and Schenectady’s coming to mind. Unlike the Black History Month events of February, Juneteenth fully takes advantage of its place as an outdoor event, with picnics, parades and educational discussions highlighting festivities. Many NYSUT educators and higher education professionals host discussions and events that educate and celebrate this holiday, which is born from the struggle of slaves. As we seek to tell the full story of our shared American experiences, Juneteenth is an opportunity for all to learn a little history from a diverse perspective.
This year, Juneteenth celebrations take on additional reverence as Blacks are still fighting for their equality and rights 155 years after the end of the Civil War. As community protestors take to the streets to express their anger and intolerance of continued allegations of police brutality, lynchings, economic hardships, disparities and continued injustice faced by poor Black communities, Juneteenth elevates consciousness and social awareness.
Like the hard-fought struggle for freedom during the Civil War, Juneteenth is another opportunity for our communities to come together, educate, share and work to eliminate institutionalized barriers of racism that continue to deny some Americans centuries-promised freedoms.
SHARE MY LESSON: 'TEACHING HARD HISTORY'. If you are lesson planning for the school year, teaching about the November 19 anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, or getting ready to celebrate Juneteenth -- the June 19 holiday recognizing the abolition of slavery -- this AFT Share My Lesson collection has what you need to teach preK-12 students the history of American slavery.