Teaching Resources

Connecting Past and Present to Help Students Understand Juneteenth

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom—901 days after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. This group was among the last to hear of the proclamation, which had been issued in 1863, outlawing slavery in the Confederate states. The delay was due to slaveholders purposely withholding the information and the lack of Union troops in Texas to enforce the order.

Celebrations of freedom, including parades, church services, and family gatherings, began in Texas after the Civil War and spread nationwide as Black Americans migrated out of the South.

As educators, we can help students make relevant and timely connections to the past and present by learning about the Juneteenth holiday together.

Use Primary Sources to Learn About Historical Perspectives

Each July 4, the U.S. celebrates independence from Great Britain. However, freedom was not enjoyed by all, as slavery persisted in the U.S. for nearly 100 years after the Declaration of Independence was ratified in 1776.

Juneteenth celebrates independence for African Americans, who endured centuries of enslavement. Students in upper grades can examine Frederick Douglass’s speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” as a primary source offering the perspective of a former enslaved person and abolitionist.

Ask students to note the year Douglass gave this speech and its context. They can examine the text, look up unfamiliar words, and answer questions posed at the end of the speech. Facilitate a respectful discussion to help students build empathy and understand why these holidays may mean different things to different people.

Juneteenth also honors the sacrifices Black Americans made to gain freedom. Students can examine primary sources related to Black soldiers serving during the Civil War and learn about Black abolitionists and their roles in ending slavery.

Connect Juneteenth to Current Events

Juneteenth is honored by communities and individuals across the U.S. in unique ways. Explore these celebrations with your students and reflect on how they represent historical values and traditions within Black communities.

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021. Students can read an article about how federal holidays are established and discuss how public advocacy and shifting cultural values contributed to the Juneteenth legislation. 

Dive Deeper with Additional Resources

There are many classroom resources to help students continue learning about Juneteenth. Thoughtfully engaging with history and connecting it to the present will help students become more engaged citizens. Explore these resources for further ideas:

We’d love to hear your ideas and how you honor Juneteenth with your students! Share with us on social media using #UnitingOurWorld.

This post was originally published on June 16, 2022 and updated on June 18, 2024. 

Caroline Weeks

Caroline Weeks is a marketing consultant at Participate Learning. She is passionate about using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for global learning.

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