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Spotlight on Juneteenth

Juneteenth isn't taught in most schools, but this year's attention could help push it into the curriculum.

Employees at Twitter, Square, the NFL, and smaller companies around the country, will have this Friday off as a corporate holiday to recognize Juneteenth. Hulu has delayed the release of two original shows to give the historic date “the spotlight.” And President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, OK, was moved from June 19th to the 20th after backlash on the original plan and accusations of using the Juneteenth date for the rally as a dog whistle for racist supporters.

The Juneteenth flag

For many, these corporate and political announcements and ensuing conversation are their first introduction to Juneteenth, a holiday that dates back to 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, TX, were finally told they were free―more than two years after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It was not a day when everyone was freed. Slavery wasn’t made illegal in all states until the 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865. But June 19 was the day the news made it to the last of the Confederate states, and this is a day many choose to celebrate freedom.

The holiday and its history are not taught in most schools. Last year a tweet from a Hampton University student from Baltimore went viral when she asked who had been taught about the day in school. Asking people to retweet if they hadn’t been taught it in school, it was retweeted hundreds of thousands of times and had thousands of comments from people who noted first hearing about the day by seeing it on their iPhone calendar or from the tweet itself.

SLJ ’s quick Twitter poll this week showed more than 90 percent of the 63 respondents work in schools that do not teach about Juneteenth.

[Read: SLJ's review of All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom]

As many hope the country has reached a tipping point in the fight for racial justice, will this be the turning point in the country where school curriculum includes the holiday? Juneteenth is recognized in all but three states as a state holiday or day of observance. The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation’s goal is to have the day declared a national holiday. There is a change.org petition toward that goal.

Also known as Juneteenth Independence Day and Emancipation Day, it is celebrated with parades and family parties, music, reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, and specific foods such as red velvet cake. This year, many of the celebrations may be moved online because of the continuing novel coronavirus pandemic closures and social distancing guidelines. Among those making plans: the DC Public Library is hosting a virtual celebration and the Brooklyn Public Library will have a Juneteenth Celebration story time. The Juneteenth Music Festival is going virtual, as well. The program begins on June 18 with an awards ceremony, along with music, a dance contest, financial literacy information, live podcasts, and a streamed set from DJ Jazzy Jeff.

[Read: SLJ's review of Juneteenth for Mayzie]

For educators still leading online classes or those planning for next year, there are resources available from ReadWriteThink (for grades 5-12), Teaching Tolerance, Libguides,  the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Juneteenth.com.

Let us know what your school has done in the past and what you are planning for the future.

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