A holiday recognizing the end of slavery and celebrating African-American culture ⇔Holiday: Juneteenth (short version)
©2020 Michael Krigline, MA
Underlined terms are explained in the vocabulary section below. Note to teachers: This “shorter” article would work well in a “conversation” class where the goal is to give students time to discuss material; for more detailed content, see the “longer” version linked here.
Juneteenth (June 19) is a US federal holiday recognizing the end of slavery and celebrating the achievements, sacrifice, and culture of people with African ancestry.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation January 1, 1863. By the time the Civil War ended in April 1865, there were 250,000 slaves in Texas. They finally got the news on June 19, 1865, as US General Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and publicly declared that “all slaves are free.” The city’s formerly-enslaved residents immediately began to celebrate with prayer, feasting, song and dance. The next year, African-American churches in Texas celebrated Juneteenth, and a growing number of African-Americans have commemorated it ever since. The holiday experienced a revival after the Civil Rights movement (1960s), and gained attention in wider circles. As of Juneteenth 2020, 47 US states and numerous large companies recognized the holiday to some degree. It became an official US National Holiday a year later (June 17, 2021), giving another paid holiday to federal government employees. The day has even been adopted in other countries, where slavery and racial oppression have stained both past and present.
Early Juneteenth commemorations included religious and political activities, sports, entertainment and large meals—as well as a time of solemn remembrance “for those freedom never reached.” More recent celebrations include picnics, street fairs, voter-registration drives, family reunions, music, and presentations about African-American history. In the words of Juneteenth.com: “In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.”
“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.” ~ Maya Angelou (African-American poet)
- adopt: to formally accept sth in a permanent way (e.g., adopting a child, or celebrating a foreign holiday)
- ancestry: related to family who lived long ago
- commemorate: to honor or remember an event or contribution. Note: English-learners sometimes confuse the terms commemorate/memorialize/memorial/memorize. You remember or honor people, and they can be memorialized (a passive verb) for their contribution or example. We can also remember our loved ones at a memorial service after they have passed away. People sometimes build a memorial or monument to pay tribute to or honor (or memorialize/commemorate) a person or event. Memorize means to put something into your memory (e.g., to learn a poem by heart).
- emancipate: to give someone the political or legal rights they didn’t have before.
- proclamation: an official statement about something important
- revival: when sth becomes popular again (can also refer to extensive renewed interest in a religion)secede: to officially stop being a part of another country [In 1861, 11 states seceded from the United States.]
- sensitize: to teach about a problem so others can fully understand; to do sth that leads to a reaction
- slavery (or involuntary servitude): treating people as property; forcing people to work against their will, esp. without payment. Modern slavery includes forced labor, sex workers, forced marriage and child soldiers.
- solemn: serious, not cheerful; often describing feelings after something bad happened (e.g., a death, earthquake, etc.)
- stain: to permanently change the color of something (like wood) with a special liquid; to change the way something (like a social practice) looks, esp. in a way that isn’t easy to un-change.
- systemic: affecting the whole, not just some small part
(Are there any terms or concepts in the article you want to ask about?)
- In your own words, summarize either the history of Juneteenth, or ways that it is celebrated.
- There are minorities in every nation. Talk about the minorities in your country. In what ways are they treated differently than those in the majority?
- Juneteenth became an official federal holiday in the US in 2021. Is there a similar federal holiday in your country (e.g., a holiday that recognizes minorities)? If so, talk about it; if not, do you think there should be? Explain.
- Who has been enslaved in the history of your nation? Antislavery.org says that 40 million are still trapped in modern slavery worldwide today. Would anyone in your country still think that they are treated like slaves? Do you agree or disagree with them, and why?
- Things like “racism” and “systemic injustice” are sometimes mentioned in the news. Do you have any questions or comments on these subjects for your teacher or classmates? Give an example of racism in your country.
- Juneteenth started when people learned that they were free from slavery almost two years after this “good news” was proclaimed in Washington DC. Can you think of other situations when good news is true but many people have not yet learned about it? (see footer for possible answers)
- Juneteenth, celebrating the achievements, sacrifice, and culture of minorities, takes place in many places including England, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Paris, and Taiwan. Pretend your class is planning to have a Juneteenth party, and discuss your plans. (What would it include?)
Homework: Take some time to grow in your awareness of the struggles and contributions of people with African ancestry, and of the minorities in your community. Share your discoveries with a classmate or friend.
Sources include: (all visited 2020, June 19 or 20)
EFLsuccess.com. This resource was created for our students under my understanding of “fair use” for educational resources. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy the text (not the photos) for personal or classroom use. See our Website Standards and Use Policy.
(Answers to discussion question 5 could include telling people about a job that will start in a few months, making a pregnancy known to hopeful grandparents, and all of life between Jesus’ Resurrection and when anyone accepts Jesus’ gift of eternal life)
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