Note: We used the traditional terms of ‘slavery’ and ‘slaves’ in our infographic as it’s generally taught this way in schools and the target audience of this is kids so we wanted to use familiar terminology. However, our blog post reflects the more appropriate ‘enslavement’ and ‘enslaved people’ that separate a person’s identity from their circumstance.
What is Juneteenth?
Talking to your kids about Juneteenth may be hard to explain to your little ones, especially if they have never heard about enslavement before. We haven’t taught Bubba about enslavement yet, but we have taught him about racism and skin color, and specifically that people haven’t always been nice to black people (we had simple Black Lives Matter discussion when making our sign).
This is how we’ll explain Juneteenth to him:
A long time ago, (white) people were being very mean to black people and making them work for them without paying them (how would that make you feel?). On June 19th, or Juneteenth, the leaders told everyone that they couldn’t make black people work for them for free anymore and that black people were free to decide where they wanted to work and live. The black people were so happy to hear this news and they celebrated and celebrated! So every year on that same date of June 19th, we celebrate the freedom of black people from the (white) people being mean to them.
With kids his age (almost 5) – I would focus on the message rather than the history of the Emancipation Proclamation by Lincoln and then later General Granger announcing in Texas that the enslaved people were free. I also have white in parentheses because although we’ve explained to him that people were being mean to black people, we haven’t called it out as specifically white people yet. If you’re comfortable with this, then go ahead!
For kids that already know what enslavement is, our infographic is laid out in 3 colors:
- Red represents the period before Juneteenth – marked by enslavement, inequality, the landowners “owning” slaves, oppression and inequality. This also includes the Civil War between the Union and the Confederacy and the move towards the abolition of enslavement.
- Black represents positive steps toward the freeing of the enslaved people. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation effective January 1, 1863, which set all enslaved people free. However, due to the Civil War and the question of Union power over the South, enslavement continued in the South. After Robert E. Lee surrendered the South in the Civil War on April 9, 1865, the message of freedom started to spread in the South as well. Finally, on June 19, 1865, or Juneteenth, General Granger rode into Galveston, TX, the last state to still have enslaved people. He issued order No 3 in Galveston, TX that stated:
- The Green represents the annual celebration of Juneteenth to commemorate the true freedom of black people in the United States. Festivities may include music, dancing, soul food, barbecues, Miss Juneteenth contests and a coming together of community. It is also a time to remember, learn and reflect upon this terrible time in US history.
Pan-African Flag (1920):
The Pan-African flag symbolically unites black people from around the world and is an emblem of black pride and fight for black liberation, especially in the USA.
As defined in the Universal Negro Catechism, 1921:
Red is the color of the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty; black is the color of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong; green is the color of the luxuriant vegetation of our Motherland.
Official Juneteenth Flag (1997):
The Official Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation. The red, white and blue colors represent the United States and the white Texas star bursting through it represents the new freedom of enslaved people throughout the land, over a new horizon.
While the "official" Juneteenth flag is generally raised at official government events, the Pan-African Flag is very commonly associated with Juneteenth as well.
Is Juneteenth an official National Holiday?
As of June 17, 2021 Juneteenth was recognized as a national holiday in the United States under President Joe Biden! The state of Texas, via State Rep Al Edwards, was the first to declare it a state holiday, with June 19, 1980 being the first state holiday. Encourage your Congressperson to vote to make Juneteenth a national holiday! Just as we celebrate the 4th of July as American Independence from the British, we should commemorate Juneteenth as America's legal freedom from the oppression of enslavement.