By Maxine J. Wood

“On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Va., Gordon Granger, a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. General Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation which had been issued more than two and a half years earlier, on Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln. The holiday is also called “Juneteenth Independence Day,” “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.” (Derrick Bryson Taylor, New York Times).

June 19 marks the second year of observance of the federal holiday, Juneteenth. It became official when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law on June 17, 2021. This was the first federal holiday signed into law since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. The origin and history of Juneteenth reflects the path by which this unique observance was realized and its connection to the Emancipation Proclamation. 

June 15 marks the last day of in-person school for Baltimore City Public School students for the 2021 to 2022 school year. Other school districts in Maryland will end their current school year on or near this date, as well. On June 19, Juneteenth will be celebrated and observed by a number of states, cities, organizations and individuals. This mid-point in June can be an interesting time for learning. 

The end of a school year traditionally gives parents, students, educators and others a chance to consider the next steps for learning. It’s important to recognize that learning is lifelong, whether within formal schools, post-secondary programs or specific experiences. While this is true for children, youth, adults and senior citizens, clearly, summer is a particularly inviting time. Parents and those in parenting roles, as well as students at varying levels, give attention to formal, defined activities. These may be designed to address deficiencies, offer remediation, skill development, new materials, arts/creativity, sports, experiential learning and technology. All are possibilities and considerations for the approaching season, even as the impact of the pandemic on the ways that learning (distance/virtual/hybrid or in-person) continues.

I encourage parents to renew, revive and recognize their importance as their children’s first teachers in the home. This second anniversary of Juneteenth will allow a focus on learning and legacy, and increase everyone’s awareness, particularly African Americans, of its impact on our country’s history. 

Why is this the “perfect time” for recognizing Juneteenth? How does it have relevance for everyone? How can this happen, beginning now and continuing past the summer? As the federal holiday approaches, there appears to be an absence of identified activities and events describing, discussing or promoting Juneteenth. Typically, questions that are asked to produce limited responses. Some refer to it as a celebration of an event related to Black heritage but incompletely explained. I believe that this lack of clarity and awareness may well doom Juneteenth.

2023 will mark the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday as a federal holiday. Many remember the pride and enthusiasm that accompanied it in 1983. People of all ages and backgrounds applauded its value and demonstrated the pride it produced by participating in direct actions and supporting celebrations. Some have expressed concern that the holiday’s significance may be diminishing and should be given attention at varying levels and in diverse ways. Imagine, then, the clear need to know and understand the meaning and importance of Juneteenth. Potentially, this will help secure its continued recognition among all Americans. 

Why focus on Juneteenth at this time? Looking at the “why” and the “how” allows for opportunities to learn more this Summer. Mutual learning can occur when parents and those involved in parenting roles participate in shared experiences with their children. Activities Completed Together (A.C.T.) is a process I developed to allow parents and children to learn some things together.

Learning more definitively about Juneteenth through shared activities could include primary research and exploration of the topic. Think of library visits, Internet searches, media inquiries, or field trips to such local, accessible historic sites as Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Harriet Tubman State Park and Museum. Or parents can consider actions, including voter registration campaigns that bring attention and perspective to the legacy of this federal holiday. Juneteenth is a part of the history of America, and the heritage of African Americans. Studying such heritage together will allow parents and children to contemplate their own legacy. 

The approaching Summer is welcomed by people of every age. There are prospects for doing new things together or individually, and to learn in different and diverse ways. Learning more about Juneteenth can be a worthy pursuit and investment of time. Doing so while contributing to the valued role parents can cultivate as their children’s first teachers in the home and beyond is important at any time. Juneteenth may well be a perfect time. 

Maxine Johnson Wood, Ed.D. is a retired educator in Pre-K to 12, college and all university levels.

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