Juneteenth is celebrated annually on June 19th as the day enslaved Black people in the South found out they were free. President Abraham Lincoln ordered that enslaved African Americans freedom two years prior with the Emancipation Proclamation, but due to the resistance in the South, those held captive didn’t know until Major General Gordon Granger reached the deepest part of the Confederacy in Galveston, Texas, and announced it.
Although African families had a rich heritage prior to being held captive, it is important that older children know about the era of slavery. Once they know, no one can ever trivialize it for them in an effort to erase the stain on the United States and the south. This is part of what is known as Sankofa, looking to the past in order to know your future. There is another saying that is, “Those who can not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” This is a past that no parent ever wants to be repeated. So let’s learn!
Illustration by Janice Robinson-Celeste
“Juneteenth is an annual holiday observing the end of slavery in the U.S. and marks the day (June 19, 1865) when news of emancipation reached people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy in Galveston, Texas.” – Wall Street Journal
These activities are suggestions. Take them and customize them for the age of your child. Young children, under the age of six, should not learn any details about slavery but instead celebrate the freedom aspect of Juneteenth. From ages seven to nine, gory details should be left out. Children ages 10-13 may be able to handle more graphic aspects. You can guide your children to create book reports, diagrams, dioramas, poster art, a tri-board presentation, or a PowerPoint presentation of the following activities. Encourage them not to just copy and paste but to read everything and to use their own words and thoughts about the subject they choose.
1. Actually Read the Emancipation Proclamation
Ask children these questions:
- Did the Emancipation Proclamation free all of the slaves? Why or Why Not?
- How many pages is the document?
- Who signed it?
- What did the document allow Black men to do that they could not do before? And why do you think this was allowed?
2. Really Discuss Abraham Lincoln
Talk about President Abraham Lincoln and his possible motives for freeing enslaved people. Did this proclamation lead to his assassination? Was he or wasn’t he an abolitionist? Did he really want to free the enslaved? These are some questions to ponder together.
The History Channel is a good place to start with information about Abraham Lincoln.
3. Research The Last Slave Ship, The Clotilda
You can find photos of the remains of this ship, discover the descendants of Clotilda who still reside in that area, and learn how it was illegal to trade enslaved people when this ship arrived. Talk about the deep resistance in the South and how this affects Black people today. Read Zora Neale Hurston’s book, “Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.”
4. Discover The Lives Of Formerly Enslaved People.
Research people like:
- Frederick Douglass
- Henry ‘Box’ Brown
- Phillis Wheatley
5. Research, “La Amistad” Ship and Slave Rebellion
“La Amistad represents one of the great, successful revolts in the history of the international slave trade” (The New Haven Independent).
6. Visit The Smithsonian African American Museum Online
The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. has many of its exhibits and collections available for viewing on their website.
7. Get Familiar With The 13th Amendment
Discuss the timeline of slavery, to Jim Crow Laws, to unjust prison sentences. Talk about how the United States changed to keep African Americans enslaved, separate, and not equal with white America. Read the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution and then watch (pause and discuss) the movie 13th by Ava Duvernay for free online.
8. Define The Difference
Know the difference between chattel slavery, slavery, and indentured servitude. Black Americans did not have the benefits of indentured servitude.
9. Discover Juneteenth Celebrations
Find out about Juneteenth celebrations in your area but also research Juneteenth activities where it all started, in Galveston, Texas. Many African Americans pilgrimage to Galveston for their annual Juneteenth celebrations.
10. Slavery Not Immigration
Make sure your child understands the difference between slavery versus immigration. Ask them to come up with five differences and to create a comparison chart.
11. Know Goree Island, Senegal West Africa
A major establishment that directly contributed to slavery in America and other countries is Goree Island in Senegal, West Africa. Talk about the “Door of No Return” and the differences between the slave dungeons from the enslaver’s headquarters above the dungeons. Find out what other countries also benefited from chattel slavery.
12. Virtual Tours of Plantations
Many slave plantations are still around today and have refurbished or reconstructed their slave quarters. You can visit Monticello, where former President Thomas Jefferson resided and owned slaves as well as Mount Vernon, where former President George Washington lived and also owned slaves. There are plenty more plantations in the South that offer 360-degree virtual tours. Teach your child to be an activist by writing to these establishments if they find any flowery wording suggesting that slavery was pleasant or mutually agreed upon.
13. Research the Middle Passage
The Middle Passage was a horrific voyage for African people. Discover how men, women, and children were packed into the bottom of the ship. Older teens can learn about rebellions at sea and how the sharks followed the ships. This topic is a heavy one. Only you will know if your child can handle it.
14. Understand Why The Civil War Was Really Fought
Many debates online have come from this topic. The Civil War was fought to maintain the South’s ability to maintain chattel slavery.
15. Discuss Pre-Slavery Black Civilizations
Talk about pre-slavery civilization in Africa from the Moors to Egypt and more. Even the construction of the pyramids is fascinating. Find out about their inventions, discoveries, contributions to the world.
16. Know About The African Queens Who Fought Enslavers
“File:Nzinga Mbandi Queen of Ndongo and Matamba SEQ 09 Ecran 4 with textbox.png” by UNESCO is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
One African queen who fought one of the biggest enslavers, the Portuguese, was Queen Nzinga of the Mbundu people in Northwest Africa known as Angola.
There are more African warrior queens who fought for their people to remain free. There are several videos on YouTube including, “Queen Njinga Mbande – African Women You Need to Know,” an interesting and humorous take on it by HairCrush called “African Queens Who Fought Slave Traders.”
Read about other African slave resistance to inform and empower.
17. Slavery Throughout History
Create a timeline of slavery to show children how it wasn’t that long ago. Start with the Bible and Jewish people as slaves, to chattel slavery in the Americas, to modern slavery today.
18. Watch Some Movies
There are a few movies that hit home when it comes to discussing slavery in America. One of the classics is the 1977 movie by Alex Haley titled, “Roots.” This movie may take a few days to watch or binge but it will move you.
Another movie you can watch together is “12 Years A Slave” and even “Amistad.” Note that many of these movies are rated “R” due to mild nudity, flogging, violence, and implied rape. These can be watched with teens at your discretion and with your guidance.
19. Slavery Is Still Alive
Google to find out what parts of the world still have an active slave trade. Modern-day slavery of Africans and women is still happening. Often it has a different name and is called human trafficking. Find out what countries are holding people captive and what you can do to help change it.