In 2021, President Joe Biden proclaimed Juneteenth a federal holiday. Juneteenth is a time to celebrate freedom, liberation and emancipation, remembrance of the hardships and pain of enslavement; celebration of survival; and hope for the opportunity and peace that freedom ought to bring.
While the Emancipation proclamation was signed in 1863, it was nearly impossible to enforce in the Confederate states and even after the war ended many in confederate states across the south continued to use violence, misinformation and threats to continue the subjugation of enslaved people.
It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, more than two years after the proclamation, and two months after the civil war ended with the surrender of the confederate army, that Federal troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas and enforced the proclamation. The enslaved people of Texas were finally able to celebrate their freedom! Juneteenth has come to represent freedom for all people even though people enslaved in the north were not freed until the passing of the thirteenth amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865.
Remembering emancipation and all its complexities—its successes and its shortcomings—is key for working towards equity and equal rights today. (US Capitol Historic Society). While Black Americans have been celebrating Juneteenth for more than 100 years, 60% of Americans knew almost nothing about the holiday, until as recently as 2021 when President Biden designated it a federal holiday, according to a Gallop Pole (Stanford Center for Racial Justice).
Why is it important that we talk to our children about Juneteenth and its significance?
As the Equal Justice Initiative reminds us, “Juneteenth does not denote a struggle completed or a finish line reached. Black Americans faced many threats to their liberty and their lives in the years after the Civil War and face continued injustice still.” Regardless of our racial or ethnic identity, Juneteenth is an opportunity to engage our children in conversations, share stories and celebrate resilience, liberation and uplift Black joy (NMAAHC). “For all children, Juneteenth celebrations and lessons are only one part of a longer conversation about race, history and culture that will take place over many years as children grow and mature.”
We are reminded in Galatians 5:13-14 to use our freedom to serve each other humbly in love. Paul goes on to say: For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
How can we celebrate our freedom, love our neighbors, and honor the history of Juneteenth?
- Follow Black content creators, Black Coffee with white friends is an excellent resource for Black and white Christians seeking unity in Christ.
- Read Just Mercy or watch the film adaptation – this story follows Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative and fights for the wrongly convicted.
- If you want to talk to your children about Juneteenth and aren’t sure what to say or how to begin the conversation, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History has developed a resource and a reading list for teaching children about this important celebration. It includes age-appropriate ways to talk to kids about slavery and freedom.
- If you are curious about the lives of people who were enslaved, the Library of Congress has both written and audio records from those who had been enslaved.