We continue as a company to reflect on how we can better support educators in teaching about social justice in their classrooms and including diverse perspectives all year long. For Listenwise stories that are relevant to the black experience in America, check out our blog posts on “Teaching about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Why Black Lives Matter” and “Stories of Black History.” Our goal is to continue to share high-quality stories from reliable sources and empower educators to fill in gaps in the curriculum and incorporate a multitude of perspectives and voices, including those of students. 

Picture Credit:
TJ Gehling

Today is June 19th, also known as Juneteenth. Though it has long been celebrated in African-American communities, it commemorates a history that has been marginalized and still remains largely unknown to the wider public. The day is also sometimes called “Juneteenth Independence Day,” “Freedom Day,” or “Emancipation Day.” On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed. Juneteenth commemorates that important event. A 2018 Vox article titled “Why celebrating Juneteenth is more important now than ever,” explains that the holiday represents “how freedom and justice in the US has always been delayed for Black people.”

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African-American state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. Edwards has since actively sought to spread the observance of Juneteenth all across America. A staff writer at The Atlantic eloquently captured the significance of the day: 

“I think it should be considered the truth of American independence. July 4 only represents when white men in this country were made free. If you think about the masses, Juneteenth represents the true fulfillment of what people believe to be that declaration, and what people believe to be freedom in this country.” – Vann Newkirk II via WBUR

To learn more about Juneteenth from a primary source, listen to an interview with Laura Smalley, a Texas woman born into slavery and freed when federal troops came to Galveston. Many people have tried to increase national recognition of Juneteenth. In 2017, 90-year-old Opal Lee walked around the country in order to raise awareness and urge the U.S. government to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. 

Now, in the midst of protests and public conversation about police brutality and the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and other African-Americans, there is renewed interest in commemorating this important day.

We encourage educators to learn more about this historic day and incorporate it into the curriculum. Culturally responsive teaching and inclusion of diverse perspectives and multicultural resources in the curriculum are important for all students, not just students of color. It is important to teach black history year-round, and not only the injustices, but also the resilience, the victories, and the many cultural and societal contributions of African Americans to the United States and the world.