Juneteenth, The Lesson We’re Still Trying to Learn



Juneteenth has gone through quite a transformation recently.

Also known as Freedom Day or Black Independence Day, Juneteenth is the bittersweet commemoration of June 19, 1865, when word of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation reached the deepest parts of the fallen Confederacy — nearly two years after slavery had officialy ended. A cause for celebration, for sure, but tinged with the disappointment that it took two additional years for this news to reach Galveston, Texas, and several more months until the Thirteenth Amendment was passed to officially abolish slavery. 

For the next 156 years, the joy and pain of this moment would live on mostly through celebrations across parts of the South, through the oral histories passed down within the Black community, and in a few lines of description in some high school history textbooks. In many places, this piece of history has been absent; I only started learning these stories as an adult, within the past decade. 

Juneteenth entered the national conversation in 2020 amidst the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other innocent Black Americans — another parallel moment of national disgrace in which Black justice was deferred. Within a year, most companies were planning to give their employees the day off, even before President Biden declared it a federal holiday. And already this year, we’ve seen several national brands release Juneteenth-themed merchandise, only to recall those items for being inappropriate and insensitive to the deeper meaning of this day. 

Without a doubt, Juneteenth is a celebration of Black freedom, joy, and perseverance. Yet it’s also a reminder that those freedoms are hard won, the joy is fragile, and the perseverance remains in the face of new systems of oppression that continue our nation’s battle against White supremacy. 

One way to deliver on the promise of Juneteenth is to ensure that our students learn that Black history is American history. Today, at DonorsChoose, we celebrate the teachers who bring these stories and more to their classrooms, teaching all of their students a complete history of our nation’s defining victories and darkest hours, and helping their Black students see themselves in the world. We also stand with the teachers who risk their careers and livelihoods to put these stories on their classroom bookshelves.

Only when our students can face the ugly truth of our nation’s history with racism, will they be able to chart a better way forward and finally deliver on the dreams and freedoms of those celebrating the first Juneteenth 157 years ago.