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Five Ways to Learn About Juneteenth With The New York Times

Nicole Daniels | The New York Times | June 16, 2021

Related Article.Credit...Simbarashe Cha for The New York Times

Via photographs, recipes, art, a podcast interview and more, students use The Times to explore the history, traditions and significance of the holiday.

Are you looking for ways for your students to learn more about Juneteenth? Below we offer five teaching ideas for exploring the holiday and its significance via a variety of media, including photographs, recipes, art and a podcast interview.

But before you dig into this collection of suggested activities, we also offer two brief excerpts from Derrick Bryson Taylor’s explainer article “So You Want to Learn About Juneteenth?” to provide some background on the holiday and its relevance today:

Juneteenth, an annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s.

But in recent years, and particularly following nationwide protests over police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans, there is a renewed interest in the day that celebrates freedom.

The celebration continues to resonate in new ways, given the sweeping changes and widespread protests across the U.S. over the last year and following a guilty verdict in the killing of Mr. Floyd.

He then explains the origins of the holiday:

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 received its name by combining June and 19. The day is also sometimes called “Juneteenth Independence Day,” “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.”

Teachers, do you already teach Juneteenth? Let us know in the comments or by writing to

1. Listen to a historian discuss Juneteenth.

Listen to a 25-minute podcast interview with Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, in the 2020 “Daily” episode “The History and Meaning of Juneteenth.” As you listen, choose to focus on one element of the podcast:

I. History

What are the major historical events described in the podcast? Take notes as you listen and then create a timeline that tracks the original Juneteenth to celebrations today.

II. Podcasting techniques

In the beginning of the podcast, how does Dr. Berry paint a picture of the first Juneteenth? How is that picture made vivid through audio and editing techniques in the podcast? What emotions do you feel as you listen to her recount what happened? What strategies does the host employ to effectively facilitate the conversation?

III. Past-to-present connections

The “Daily” host, Michael Barbaro, asks Dr. Berry, “What does this day mean right now, in this moment?” Based on what you heard in the podcast, how would you answer the question? What does Juneteenth mean to you personally? What do you think it should mean for other people in your community? What about for the United States as whole?

2. Look at photographs of Juneteenth celebrations.

In “Juneteenth 2020 in Photos,” Audra D.S. Burch uses words to paint a picture of last year’s Juneteenth celebrations and guide the reader through photographs of celebrations across the country.

Begin by looking at the above photograph from the article. Then, answer the questions below.

What do you notice in this photograph? Who is featured? What are they doing?

How does the composition of the photograph — viewpoint, patterns, depth, color, shapes or background — affect how you view and respond to the photograph?

How do the choices that the photographer made communicate an emotion or idea about Juneteenth?

Then, return to the featured article and choose one or two other photographs that you find particularly interesting and respond to the same questions.

Will you be attending a Juneteenth celebration in your community this year? Take several photographs of the event that you think capture the energy and meaning of the experience. Choose one to share with your classmates and write a short artist statement that explains what was happening and why your photograph is meaningful in the context of the celebration.

3. Explore the flavors of Juneteenth.

Do you know of any foods or drinks that are customary for Juneteenth? If your family celebrates the holiday, is there a special dish that you look forward to eating or preparing?

Historically, Juneteenth has been a time to celebrate freedom, resistance and Black joy, and central to many of these celebrations is food. In 2017, Nicole Taylor wrote about this in her article “Hot Links and Red Drinks: The Rich Food Tradition of Juneteenth.”

Many of the largest Juneteenth celebrations are still held in Texas: old-school parades with horses and souped-up cars; local bands playing; tender, fatty brisket on hand. But the day is observed widely all over the South, and in cities throughout the United States. Street fairs spring up, where R&B and gospel acts perform, and where you will find proud dandies like Mr. Harris forming lines for fried fish, spareribs or Fred Flintstone-style turkey legs. The Harlem Renaissance singer Gladys Bentley described the scene in her anthem “Juneteenth Jamboree”: “Dressed to kill from head to feet. Baskets full of food to eat. You can’t get this on your TV.”

Some families hold picnics or cookouts. Smoke clouds billow from drum grills, scalloped-edged paper plates are pried apart, and self-appointed Southern potato salad queens set out bowls covered with crinkled aluminum foil. Chargrilled oysters may turn up on the buffet table in Mississippi; meaty baked beans appear in Kansas; in the Carolinas, add heaps of vinegar-tinged pulled pork. For dessert, pies.

Red foods are customary for Juneteenth, the crimson a symbol of ingenuity and resilience in bondage. Watermelon, Texas Pete hot sauce and red velvet cake are abundant. A strawberry pie wouldn’t be out of place. Spicy hot links on the grill — most commonly made with coarsely ground beef, and artificially dyed red — are a Juneteenth staple, too, and “a distinctive African-American contribution to barbecue,” said Adrian Miller, a James Beard award-winning author and soul food expert.

Red drinks, like strawberry soda and Texas-made Big Red pop, generally rule the Juneteenth bar, and link present to past. “Two traditional drinks from West Africa that had a lot of social meaning are kola nut tea and bissap,” Mr. Miller said. (Bissap is more commonly known as hibiscus tea.) Both came to the Americas with the slave trade; red kola nuts and hibiscus pods colored the water in which they were steeped.

What is your reaction to Ms. Taylor’s words and descriptions about Juneteenth food culture? Do any of her descriptions resonate with your own experience?

To learn more, look at this recipe collection curated by Ms. Taylor. Most of the recipes include a description and introduction; for example, the description of “Charleston Red Rice” begins, “A Lowcountry favorite that likely descended from West African jollof rice, this classic tomato and rice dish is also sometimes called Carolina red rice — or simply red rice.”

Choose two or three recipes to read in their entirety. What are you able to learn about Black food traditions and the holiday of Juneteenth from reading the recipes? What connections can you make to other food traditions?

4. Honor Juneteenth through art.

In Galveston, Texas, artists have created a mural to honor and reflect on Juneteenth. Spend several minutes looking closely at this photograph of the mural.

Montinique Monroe for The New York Times

  • What do you notice about the mural? What colors, symbols or images stand out? What words, people or places are you able to identify on the mural? What do you think the central message of the mural is?

  • What you wonder about the mural? What questions does it raise for you?

  • What is your reaction to the mural? Why?

In the article “Honoring Juneteenth Through Art in Galveston,” Alina Tugend describes the mural in more detail:

The mural “sprinkles the hard bitter truth with sugar,” said Reginald C. Adams, a Houston artist who was commissioned to create the art. “The sugar is the beauty and energy of the mural, while the bitter truth is that for two and a half years, people were held in slavery against a federal declaration.”

The theme of the brightly colored work is “absolute equality,” drawing from the words used in the General Order No. 3, which officially ended slavery in Texas. It reads, in part: “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” The entire order is written at the bottom of the mural.

Read the article in its entirety to learn about the artist’s use of symbolism in the mural and the responses, both positive and negative, to this public art.

  • Do you think art is an effective tool for commemorating Juneteenth? Why or why not?

  • Are you familiar with other examples of art, such as murals, songs or dances, that honor the holiday? Please share.

Now, create your own artistic response to Juneteenth. You can write a poem or lyrics to a song, choreograph a dance, or create a work of visual art — such as a Color, Symbol, Image drawing. If you decide to do this activity, choose a color that represents a main idea of the holiday, a symbol that reflects a core principle or meaning of Juneteenth and an image that shows what the holiday means to you.

5. Reflect on the meaning of Juneteenth.

How should Juneteenth be discussed, taught or celebrated within families, schools and communities? How do you think individuals and communities should hold the history of slavery, emancipation and present-day racism while also honoring Juneteenth?

To explore these questions further, choose one of the two articles below to read in its entirety:

“What Does It Mean to Be Crowned ‘Miss Juneteenth’?” by Tariro Mzezewa (June 14, 2021)

“This Is How We Juneteenth” by Gina Cherelus (June 18, 2020)

  • Both articles stated that in 2020 there was an increased interest in Juneteenth. Did you notice that happening in your community? What kind of conversations or events happened around that time? Has the response and interest been similar or different this year?

  • Based on what you read, what are some of the different ways that people mark the holiday? According to the article, why is the holiday difficult or complicated for some Black people to embrace and celebrate?

  • If you are a Black American, does your family celebrate Juneteenth? What do your celebrations look like? If you do not identify as Black, have you been part of any Juneteenth celebrations? What role do you think other people besides Black Americans should have, if any, in marking Juneteenth?

  • Last year, Veronica Chambers asked these questions in anticipation of Juneteenth:

Is celebrating this holiday enough to begin to fix all that’s so very broken? And, one tick further, is the national embrace of what has been known as the African-American Independence Day a dangerous idea? Some people wonder — if we sip on our traditional red drinks as we socially distance on screens and porches — will we be lulled into feeling more free than we really are?

After reading the article, what is your reaction? Do you think that celebrating Juneteenth ignores the work of racial justice that lies ahead? Or do you think it is important to celebrate even small moments of victory, resistance or rest?


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