What Is Juneteenth National Freedom Day? A Juneteenth Activity

In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation had declared all enslaved people in the rebelling states free. Because Union forces did not control Texas at that time, the Proclamation had no practical effect in that state until Union General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston on June 19, 1865 and read the order. In Texas, June 19 came to be known as Juneteenth, on which day African Americans celebrated their freedom.

As the news of emancipation spread, many freedpeople, or formerly enslaved people, left the plantations. For many, it was the first time they had the freedom to travel. During the summer and fall of 1865, Texas roads were crowded with people loaded down with their possessions. Many freed people rushed to courthouses to legalize their informal slave marriages. Others searched for family members from whom they had been separated. Some gathered at military posts and towns, hoping to find paying jobs and military protection. Many who had been sent to Texas during the war returned to their prewar homes.

Shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, many freedpeople escaped to the Union Army lines at Newbern. Wood engraving with modern color. © Everett Historical/Shutterstock

In 1980, Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas. Although not an official holiday elsewhere, Juneteenth has gradually gained popularity across the United States. In fact, some of the largest Juneteenth gatherings are now held in the northern cities of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Juneteenth festivities take many forms, including public speeches, parades, rodeos, and picnics. Many people also gather with their families on the holiday to rejoice in the gains that African Americans have made and to reflect on their hopes for the future.

Juneteenth Lesson Plan

High school teachers: Download this free Juneteenth activity to celebrate National Freedom Day with your class, which is from HMH High School American History Oklahoma Edition. Feel free to swap Oklahoma in the activity with your state! In it, students plan their own Juneteenth learning fair while researching local African American leaders. This fair adapts well to online learning, where students independently prepare two- to five-minute presentations.

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This article was compiled using information about Juneteenth in HMH African American History and HMH United States History. The free activity is from HMH High School American History. See our full suite of Grades 6–12 Social Studies solutions here.