June 19, or as most of us know it today Juneteenth, is one of the oldest dates etched in history, a tribute to the ending of slavery in the United States. Our history books remind us that the adaptation of the 13th amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation both played serious roles in the abolition of slavery. But what details are we really missing? How do we truly embody the meaning of this celebration? How should we observe this holiday?
Since there’s no one way to observe this holiday, we decided to reach out to the experts at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. for their take. Mary Elliott is the curator of American slavery and is well versed in both American history and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. At the NMAAHC Mary creates key themes for exhibits; collects artifacts, graphics and other objects for exhibits; and creates stories and scripts for those same and other exhibits.
“What to the slave is the 4th of July?,” said Fredrick Douglass. Elliott says that in order to truly understand and effectively commemorate Juneteenth, it’s important for both student and teacher to understand what this question truly speaks to. What does freedom, empowerment, identity and community look like to someone who identifies as Black or African American? Elliott poses another question that not only curators should think about, but also, we as parents should: “Are we living up to the idea of freedom and liberty in this nation? Are we looking to what it’s meant to be truly American?”
So why should we even care to celebrate Juneteenth, and how do we even celebrate it?
- It is important to recognize Juneteenth because: It marks the official end of slavery.
- It celebrates freedom and empowers African Americans.
- It gives all ethnicities, races, creeds and colors of people another reason to join together as one.
How do we celebrate Juneteenth? By commemorating the past and the present. Highlight those people who helped established the day despite all the odds they were up against. Support the efforts that are still happening to keep those legacies alive. History books acknowledge the proclamation and the abolition of slavery in 1863, but you really have to do a little more digging to find details about General Gordon Granger and the General Order Number 3 that he delivered which ultimately informed slaves that they indeed were all free. This general order was given in Texas nearly two years following the Emancipation Proclamation. We commemorate the general himself for bringing the message and most importantly, we celebrate the actual order, that all slaves were officially free.
We also can celebrate Juneteenth by emphasizing black empowerment. Challenge your children to read more about black writers, poets, scientists and entrepreneurs. Celebrate black soldiers who served during this period. Read excerpts yourself! This is a great opportunity for a history lesson. Don’t wait to start your conversation about Juneteenth on June 19th. Don’t be afraid to speak to your children about the timelines leading up to the actual date. Be ready and willing to have those difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Encourage your children to analyze what’s changed from the past. As parents, challenge yourselves to dig a little deeper. How can you talk to your children about Juneteenth? How do we view others in society? Is everyone treated fairly? Justly? Elaborate on your thoughts with your kids and educate and evaluate with them how we move forward.
CELEBRATING JUNETEENTH 2021 IN THE DMV & NEARBY
This Juneteenth, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture hopes to manage their activities all virtually. There will be a virtual tour of the exhibits, a community curation with the Rob Smith Center, resources for parents, storytelling and live food demos.
Step Afrika! Juneteenth Virtual Celebration premiering on Facebook and YouTube June 19, 8 p.m. Free registration at bit.ly/stepafrikajuneteenth2021 Annapolis will have its inaugural Juneteenth Festival this year June 19, including a parade and music festival. annapolisjuneteenth.org
Juneteenth at Lucasville School, Manassas, Va., June 19, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., free (donations welcome). Reconstructed one-room schoolhouse dedicated to interpreting post-Civil War African-American education in Prince William County. visitpwc.com/event/juneteenth-at-lucasville/4704/
View the original Juneteenth General Order in the National Archives collection: archives.gov/news/articles/juneteenth-original-document
Travel to Emancipation Parks. Visit Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C., Emancipation Park in Laurel, Maryland and Market Street Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. Emancipation Parks are scattered all across the U.S and the world and they all have very specific meanings. Learn the history. There’s one in Houston, Texas that stretches close to 10 acres and is deeply rooted in the Juneteenth celebration. Take a trip and come home ready to spill everything you learned.