President Abraham Lincoln may have issued his Emancipation Proclamation on January 30, 1863, but it was over two years before enslaved people in Texas received word, when Major-General Grange read General Order No. 3 (above) on June 19 in Galveston. Juneteenth has been celebrated on June 19 since, and in 1980 Texas became the first state to officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.
Juneteenth has its own flag (below) and its own traditions, but in many ways it’s similar to July 4th celebrations. Original Juneteenth celebrations included prayer, spirituals and dressing up in fancy clothes, and current-day celebrations have grown to include music and food festivals, educational events and family picnics. The color red features prominently, in food and dress, to recognize the sacrifices enslaved ancestors made (among other reasons).
As with many celebrations, food is important on Juneteenth. In keeping with the red theme, ingredients like strawberries, red beans, or even BBQ sauce feature in many recipes, and red drinks are particularly important. For some inspiration, check out these vegan collard greens, some old-fashioned tea cakes, or Carla Hall’s Watermelon Salad with Habanero-Pickled Onions and Lime Salt.
And what is a celebration without music and dancing? Just as the “Star Spangled Banner” is synonymous with July 4th, Francis Scott Key’s ode to the stars and stripes is set aside to make way on Juneteenth for the Black National Anthem: “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Dance also has a long history in Black culture, and some styles of social dance can be traced back all the way to enslaved Africans without a common language–or the drums plantation owners prohibited them from having–working to form a community. The Cake Walk, a Black dance parodying the manners of the masters was so well-received that owners requested performances, never suspecting that they were being mocked. Today, dance continues to serve as a powerful form of Black protest.
But perhaps that’s a deep enough dive for now. This post is in no way intended to be a full history of Juneteenth, but a scratching of the surface of a rich history and heritage that so many Americans know nothing about. I recommend taking this opportunity to learn as we teach our children. We have a list of Juneteenth kids’ books (including Juneteenth for Mazie, read aloud here), resources from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History, and President Obama’s 2016 Juneteenth speech. Here’s an article full of writing prompts for children all the way from Kindergarten to the end of High School.
We’ve put together some additional resources to use in school or at home in the hope that Juneteenth will become more than just a footnote at the end of the school year.