June 19, 1865 was the date two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It was also two months after the end of the Civil War. The last remaining enslaved African people learned they had been freed. The date has become known as Juneteenth. It is an important commemoration in American culture representing the resilience and joy of Black Americans.
The significance of Juneteenth
I am not a history teacher, but here we go. History teacher or not, history is important. We must know our past so as to recognize our present and continue to shape our future. The history surrounding Juneteenth is critically important to the shaping of American history and that of Black history.
For some context, as we build into learning about Juneteenth, I was watching a show on The History Channel about Teddy Roosevelt. In a scene referencing Roosevelt’s initial meeting with Booker T. Washington, one of the historians made a remark that stuck with me. I am only slightly paraphrasing here, but it was about how during his Presidency, America was deeply entrenched in racism. It gave me pause for a moment when I thought about how Roosevelt was the 26th President. The reason that matters is that Abraham Lincoln is the president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Essentially, this brought an end to slavery in America. Right? Well, not exactly. Lincoln was the 16th President. America was deeply entrenched in racism in the mid 1800s, so not much changed in half a century. Let’s see how the time of Lincoln and America factors into the significance of Juneteenth.
In the 1800s, not all of America believed in equality or even that Black people should be free people. There was a whole war about it disguised as a fight for “rights”- of white men to own Black men. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the reality is that all Black people were not immediately freed. You know, growing up, I never learned this. I just did not. But that is another part of the story I’ll get to later.
Numbers of people living in the Confederate Southern states didn’t agree with Lincoln’s decree. So, they openly defied it. They so steadfastly refused to release their enslaved Black peoples, that they moved them, some 150,000 people to the state of Texas. Most of the enslaved Black peoples in the South were unaware of Lincoln’s orders. Largely, this was due to slaveholders who did not spread the news, and this included the mayor of Galveston Texas who was a Confederate himself. This ensured white owners continued control over their slaves. For the slaves who did catch wind of the news, slave masters threatened them back into work and submission. Some slaves, however, did attempt to free themselves. Many were shot or killed trying to escape. Thus, slavery continued.
There is a lot of history that we learn in school over our careers as students. Typically, in high school, we spend a lot of time on American History. Interestingly or perhaps ironically, the curriculum often ends with the Civil War and then picks up later. This leaves out an obvious chunk which includes Juneteenth and the freeing of the last slaves in America in Texas. A whole TWO years pass before the slaves in Texas area freed following the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
It seems critical to point out that Americans were regularly celebrating their freedom as a country since 1776, but there was an entire population in America who wasn’t free and who wasn’t celebrating any type of independence at all. It is a deeply stark representation of the imbalance of equality that has permeated America throughout its history. To be the best allies that we can be, it is vital that we open ourselves to
The history of Juneteenth
I’ll be the first to admit my ignorance in not knowing enough about Juneteenth. I am here to help share what I have learned so that we do not continue the cycle of not knowing. So, let’s circle back to Lincoln. Yes, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, or Proclamation 95 as it is also called, on January 1, 1863. Two+ years pass and the Civil War is officially ended. Union General Gordon Granger led under 2,000 troops to Galveston, Texas. Back to my not being a history teacher, I had to do a deep dive to understand the country at this time. Initially, I was baffled that the huge state of Texas was what, unaware of slavery ending? No, of course not.
In the Lonestar State
Texas, as it was, remained one of the last hold out Southern states to be officially claimed by the Union army. This was why it was “fair game” for slave holders from the South to flee to and continue to maintain control over their slaves. So, Granger arrives in Texas and reads General Orders No. 3, which announces the end of slavery for all of Texas’s slaves, a number totaling somewhere around 250,000. The order said,
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Despite Granger’s best efforts, it STILL took a period of time before all Texan slaves learned of their freedom. Many slave holders held out as LONG as possible before releasing the news. Some waited until troops arrived to force their hand, while others waited until their slaves harvested the seasons crops. Whatever the reason, the road to freedom was a lengthy one.
June 2021 was when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. This launched Juneteenth into an officially observed Federal Holiday for the first time ever. The official White House statement by President Biden speaks to the history of America and how we can heal and grow by not choosing to remain in ignorance.
I think it is crucially important to share the history of Juneteenth with our families and our students. We have created some resources for you to explore this auspicious day along with an opportunity to learn and grow!
- Juneteenth Writing Prompt 1- Start off with exploring WHAT the day is in your own words.
- Writing Prompt 2– In this exercise, write in your own words, WHY we celebrate Juneteenth.
- Word Search for Juneteenth– This word search offers a variety of relevant vocab words. (Tip: for an extra enrichment activity, look up any words you don’t know the meaning!)
- Vocab activities for: Abolished, Emancipation, and Perseverance.
What you can do
Keep learning and growing your mind and heart. Be an ally!
Let us know in the comments what you and your families are doing to celebrate Juneteenth and what you learned that was new. Can’t wait to hear from you.
Courtney is an MTT tutor, academic coach, and blog contributor for MTTES. If you check out our FB and Instagram pages, you might see her giving a storytime with her son Jack through the company’s Facebook Live service. Courtney’s love of the English language, learning, and creative writing inspired her to contribute relevant content to teachers, tutors, parents, and homeschoolers seeking support across an array of trending topics. She and her teacher husband have two small children and reside in Baltimore, MD with their dog Lottie May.