Teachers are encouraged to acknowledge with students the particularly challenging times and events we are currently facing. With so much on our hearts and minds, this lesson offers students a moment to engage in the spirit of liberation and celebration that is at the heart of Juneteenth.
Please note: Some of the resources provided use the word “slaves.” Teachers are encouraged to support the use of the term “enslaved” to speak to the conditions Blacks endured, rather than improperly characterizing Blacks themselves.
Sunday, June 19th is Juneteenth, a day acknowledging the emancipation of enslaved Africans in America. Juneteenth, which has been celebrated by many in the Black community for over 150 years, was only officially made a U.S. national holiday in 2021. In 2022, Juneteenth holiday will be observed on Monday, June 20.
For many Blacks, this country (and world) has a long way to go before contributing to and embodying true freedom and justice for Black people. At the same time, Juneteenth can be a welcome opportunity to engage in communal, celebratory practices, such as gathering with friends and family, enjoying music, sharing food, and supporting Black-owned and created goods and products.
Share with students an introductory history of Juneteenth. Additional resources can be found at the end of this lesson.
Invite students to share any reflections they have on these resources.
A Juneteenth Circle
One at a time, invite students to respond to one or more of the following prompts:
- What does community mean to you? Who do you think of when you hear that word?
- What aspects of (your) community bring you joy? strength? connection?
- What are ways that you, your family, and/or your community celebrate? What does celebration look/feel/sound like?
- What does liberation and/or freedom look like to you? What do you envision in the future when you think about liberation and/or freedom for your community?
- This year, Father’s Day and Juneteenth fall on the same day. To honor this, share about a Black man in your life who positively impacts you, and how.
Share a closing statement with students, possibly connected with this quote:
"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together."
– Desmond Tutu, human rights activist and theologian
Extended Learning Activity
For some in the Black community, Juneteenth is recognized and celebrated instead of the 4th of July.
Invite students to read an excerpt or the full speech by Frederick Douglass entitled What to the Slave is the 4th of July?
Engage students in a circle to share their thoughts. Prompts might include:
- What stood out for you in this reading?
- Why have many Blacks felt disconnected from the July 4th holiday?
- Why do you think some Black people celebrate Juneteenth in intentional opposition to July 4th?
- The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth (Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)
- So You Want to Know About Juneteenth (New York Times)
- Complete Frederick Douglass Fourth of July Speech (reading)
- James Earl Jones’ Reading of Frederick Douglass’ Speech (video)
NYC Juneteenth Events
- Historic Weeksville Heritage Center Juneteenth Food Festival
- Celebrate Juneteenth at Seneca Village
- Juneteenth NY Festival
- Black Creatives and Culture Market
- Celebrate Juneteenth 2022 with Kowteff African Dance Company
- Juneteenth Unityfest at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!
- Juneteenth Celebration: Sonic Liberation
- Juneteenth with Community Legacy Project