A Celebration of Truth: Learning About Juneteenth
The objective of this three-day unit study is to bridge the gap between what most students learn about The Emancipation Proclamation, what it did and for whom, and the significance of June 19, 1865, and what became known as Juneteenth.
Day One – Part One Historical Background
Your student likely knows the significance of Independence Day, you can provide a quick refresher if need be. Remind your student that despite the colony’s freedom from English rule, there was nothing ‘free’ about being an enslaved African at the time. They remained working to build the new nation. They were not free from anything.
While many Americans celebrate The Fourth of July, countless others do not for this very reason. There was nothing for enslaved Africans to celebrate in 1776, so it makes sense that their ancestors would have a difficult time celebrating July 4th. Juneteenth, however, is a reason to celebrate because it marked the day that ALL enslaved Africans were granted freedom.
NOTE: The lesson for today is designed to be delivered Waldorf-style by which the parent/teacher/caregiver reads the information and relays it to the student verbally. Not aloud verbatim, but in your own words. This is important to help create a connection and engage your student. A general overview is noted here, but there are countless resources online for the teacher/parent/caregiver to utilize.
Part 1 General Overview Juneteenth Lesson – Summarize for Student
On June 19th, 1865 a quarter of a million enslaved Africans in Texas learned that they were free. This occurred a whole two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863.
Several months prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation which was essentially an ultimatum to the Southern States to rejoin the Union by January 1st of the following year. Lincoln’s main goal was not to free enslaved Africans but to save the Union. He even stated, my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery.”
What Lincoln wanted to do was free the enslaved so they would join the Union Army which would significantly reduce the money coming into the Confederacy. The Southern States were using that money to fight against the North. So Lincoln’s logic was, remove those who were making money for the South and then the North wins the Civil War.
Once the Emancipation Proclamation was declared on January 1, 1863, enslaved Africans in the Confederacy were granted freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to the enslaved in border states. Two years later the Union won the Civil War in April 1865 but not all of the enslaved people in the South were aware of the Emancipation Proclamation.
On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger and a group of Union soldiers marched to Galveston, Texas to let the enslaved Africans there know that they were indeed free. That included approximately a quarter of a million people.
Granger read the General Order No. 3 from a balcony of a building in Galveston which read in part:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. – General Order No. 3
The celebration and jubilee that occurred as a result of this reading, as you can imagine, was abundant. The day was soon called Juneteenth and is also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. In 1979, Texas State Representative Al Edwards wrote and sponsored a bill that would make Juneteenth a paid state holiday in Texas, which it did become in 1980.
As of today, 47 states and the District of Columbia either recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or observance. Texas State Representative Sheila Jackson Lee along with other government officials re-introduced the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in Feb. 2021. (It was initially introduced by Sheila Jackson Lee in 2020.)
Follow along and track the act with your student here: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/117/hr1320
Day One – Part Two Juneteenth Notable People Copywork
Cut out the trivia matching cards listed below to help your student remember the events discussed today. You could use these to create the main lesson page or use them as copywork
- General Gordon Granger
- Al Edwards
- Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation
- Emancipation Proclamation
- General Order No. 3
Juneteenth Lesson Day Three – Historical Background
On day three your student will be learning about notable people during this period of history. There are so many who stood up for themselves and others to make a change, some of whom we know, still others, we may never know their names.
Robert Smalls: A Daring Escape
Robert Small’s story will likely be an engaging one for your student; it’s an exciting story of bravery and determination.
Watch the 3:08 minute video with your student:
(note: the first 20 seconds of the video is usually an advertisement, be sure to prescreen for appropriateness as the advertisement changes based on PBS programming)
Vocabulary to review:
Susie Taylor King –
Learn about Denmark Vesey through this website: https://kids.britannica.com/kids/article/Denmark-Vesey/631019
Have your student read the above passage or read it aloud to them, if you have an Encyclopedia Brittanica membership, you can opt to listen to the audio version directly from the site.
See the Denmark Vesey monument at Hampton Park in Charleston, SC as Akua Page, Content Specialist at The Geechie Experience narrates and shows viewers this important statue.
William Harvey Carney
All Different Now: Juneteenth The First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson
Complete the discussion questions at the bottom of this post with your student. Either discuss them orally or have your student answer them independently – whichever way works best for your family/student.
Additional ways to commemorate Juneteenth with your student!
- Take to the sidewalk or driveway with some sidewalk chalk and create a Juneteenth flag or write Happy Freedom Day or Happy Juneteenth!
- Attend a local Juneteenth celebration in your city or town
- Do business (today and regularly) with Black-owned businesses in your area.
These resources are for you the parent/teacher/caregiver to peruse and share with your student as needed throughout the duration of their learning experience. Not directly related to Juneteenth, they are important resources to bookmark.
International African American Museum https://iaamuseum.org/contact/
The Slave Dwelling Project: https://slavedwellingproject.org/