Juneteenth: Why is it Important to America?

June 14, 2020

Students watch and discuss a short video about the history of Juneteenth and research their questions about the holiday.


Opening
 

Ask students to look at the following images, in order clockwise from the left

  1. Ithaca NY, 2018,
  2. IowaCASA, 2017, and
  3. Galveston College Student Government Association, 2019

 

Juneteenth images

 

Explain that they are all from announcements to celebrate Juneteenth.

Ask students some or all of the following questions:

  • Describe what you see in the images.
  • What does Juneteenth mean to you? 
  • How do the images represent that for you, or not?
  • What symbolism in the images are you familiar with?
  • What do you have questions about?   (Chart responses.)

If students don’t know what Juneteenth is, ask them to look at the images:

  • Describe what you see in the images.
  • What do you think, based on the images, Juneteenth may be about?
  • What do you have questions about? (Chart responses)

 


 

This Is Why Juneteenth Is Important for America
 

Next, invite students to watch the following 3-minute video from The Root about This Is Why Juneteenth Is Important for America.  

Acknowledge that the video contains a lot of information.  Play it once all the way through, then ask students what stood out for them about the piece.  Ask students if they’d like to watch it again in shorter segments, rewatching each of the segments before discussing them in more detail. (Note that you can see a minute by minute transcript by clicking on the three dots below the video and selecting Open Transcript.)

Ask students some or all of the following questions:
                                                

Part 1: The Emancipation Proclamation (0:00-1:50 min)

  • What does the video tell us about Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation?
  • What does the video tell us about who freed enslaved people?
  • What happened on June 19, 1865?
  • When was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation? What happened in between?
  • Who was Major General Gordon Ranger and how was he involved with freeing enslaved people in Galveston, Texas?
  • Did it result in enslaved people actually gaining their freedom?
  • How did white people respond?


Part 2: Reconstruction Era (1:50-2:29 min)

  • What does the video say about how Black people responded?
  • When was the first public Juneteenth event?  How was it celebrated?
  • Where did it go from there?


Part 3: Jim Crow and the Civil Right Movement (2:29-2:55 min)

  • What happened with the Juneteenth celebration in the 20th century?   Why?
  • What did the Poor People’s March of 1968 do for the holiday?
  • What happened in Texas in 1980 with regard to Juneteenth?
  • What happened in Congress in 1997?  What did Juneteenth come to be known as?


Part 4: Today and Looking Back Through History

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about Juneteenth becoming a national holiday?
  • The video describes Juneteenth as more than a celebration of freed enslaved people.  Explain.


Ask students next:

  • Now that you’ve watched the video, what questions do you have about Juneteenth, or what would you like to learn more about?

Consider charting students’ questions about Juneteenth. Have them research their questions themselves, or provide them with an article or range of articles like the ones below.  Ask them to come back to class with the answers they found.

Possible sources to share:

If your students want to take things a step further, consider

The Atlantic Balancing the Ledger on Juneteenth, which touches on the debate over reparations, highlighting the dual purpose of the holiday: celebrating emancipation but also demanding accountability for historical and present wrongs.
 


 

Closing

Ask students: 

What is one thing you learned, one thing you have questions about, or one thing you would like to share about Juneteenth, aka Black Independence Day?

 



Extension Activities 

 

One hundred and fifty-five years after the news of emancipation finally reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, systemic racism, injustice, and police brutality continue to afflict our society and shape our lives.

In the wake of the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police, mass protests spread into the streets across the country and world. 

Almost a month later, for Juneteenth,  the Movement for Black Lives announced A Weekend of Action to “demand justice on Juneteenth”:

“In observance of Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the emancipation of African slaves in America, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) is organizing a weekend of action to demand divestment from police departments and investment in Black communities.”

Invite students to find out more about the protests and the Movement for Black Lives.