Presented by HSTA’s Human and Civil Rights Committee

Juneteenth, a holiday that combines the words June and nineteenth, is observed on June 19 to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

On June 19, 1865, enslaved Texans in Galveston learned that slavery was over. This occurred two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863; five months after Congress passed the 13th Amendment on Jan. 31, 1865, to officially abolish slavery in the U.S.; and two months after the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865, marking the end of the Civil War.

The reading by Gen. Gordon Granger of General Order No. 3 stated:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. 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 freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

According to the National Archives, “While the order was critical to expanding freedom to enslaved people, the racist language used in the last sentences foreshadowed that the fight for equal rights would continue.”

While Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery, Learning for Justice notes that people were enslaved in Delaware until Dec. 6, 1865, when the 13th Amendment was ratified.

Learning for Justice also explains, “Initially a uniquely Texan observance, Juneteenth has now been recognized in some form in every corner of the country” with activities that “feature the sights and sounds of Blackness: People enjoying art, music and food that connect them to a shared ancestry and history. They celebrate being their authentic selves. They celebrate freedom in both solemn and festive ceremonies.”

Learn more about Juneteenth:

State and federal recognition of Juneteenth

On June 16, 2021, Gov. David Ige signed a bill into law to officially recognize Juneteenth in Hawaiʻi. It was added to the state calendar as a permanent day of reflection.

“June 19 of each year shall be known and designated as Juneteenth to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States and in honor and recognition of the significant roles and contributions of African Americans in the history of the United States. Juneteenth is not and shall not be construed to be a state holiday.”

Ige said, “With the national events from the summer of 2020 fresh in our collective minds and a renewed call to address the systemic racism that results in racial injustice and inequality, it is important and timely that Hawaiʻi acknowledges the experience of African Americans. We also recognize the accomplishments of African Americans and their roles in our state’s history. With the signing of this bill, I hope that June 19th will serve as a moment of reflection for all.”

The following day, President Joe Biden signed legislation designating Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Biden said during the signing, “great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. They don’t ignore those moments of the past. They embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we made. And in remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.”

Slavery in Hawaiʻi

More than a decade before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi abolished slavery in its constitution of 1852.

Article 12. Slavery shall, under no circumstances whatever, be tolerated in the Hawaiian Islands: whenever a slave shall enter Hawaiian territory he shall be free; no person who imports a slave, or slaves, into the King’s dominions shall ever enjoy any civil or political rights in this realm; but involuntary servitude for the punishment of crime is allowable according to law.

Despite this, indentured servitude and harsh labor contracts continued, and were upheld in the 1891 court case, Hilo Sugar Company vs. Mioshi, which relied on the Masters and Servants Act of 1850.

The importance of Juneteenth in education

Hawaiʻi educators must understand the significance of Juneteenth, because it is an important part of history that many of us did not learn about when we were in school. We must uplift the history of our marginalized communities and educate each other and our students of different perspectives to create inclusive learning environments where all students are reflected and thrive.

“As an African American living and growing up in America, I was never taught about Juneteenth as part of the history of enslavement. What a valuable lesson that would have been for both me and my non-African-American classmates,” said HSTA Human and Civil Rights Committee member and Mililani Waena Elementary teacher Verona Holder. “I hope that we, as teachers, will find the time to address this important day and offer the space for our students to have this opportunity that I missed.”

HSTA President Osa Tui, Jr., said, “While we celebrate the history of our country with a holiday like Independence Day later this summer, it is important that we also recognize that our country has its roots based upon the exploitation of human slavery and indentured servitude. Education is the cornerstone of our democracy and making sure that we keep ourselves fully aware of our past helps to ensure that we don’t make those same mistakes in the future.”

Educators across the country echo this sentiment, reaffirming the message that students should be aware of how we can celebrate and preserve freedom for all people.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said, on Juneteenth “we commit ourselves to learn the history of enslavement, emancipation and the continuous struggle to end all forms of discrimination and inequality in our country. We commit ourselves to teaching a full and accurate account of American history, including acts of racism and hate, and their implications. And we commit ourselves to standing hand and hand with our community allies in this fight to ensure that the promise of justice and liberty is a reality for all people.”

About the Juneteenth flag

The Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, and other collaborators, including illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf, who refined the design in 2000. According to her website, the flag’s red, white, and blue colors indicate that slaves and their descendants were and are American, while the design, a burst on the horizon, represents a new freedom, a new people, a new star. The date, June 19, 1865, was added in 2007.

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Recommendations and resources



Websites, articles

  • Celebrate Juneteenth | Teach for America: This site has background information, teaching resources, and lists of books and movies appropriate for students.
  • Happy Juneteenth! | Learning for Justice: An introductory article about Juneteenth, originally published on June 18, 2015.
  • Celebrating Juneteenth | National Geographic Kids: The federal holiday celebrates the freedom of enslaved people at the end of the Civil War. Here’s how it got its start.
  • Understanding & Celebrating Juneteenth | National Museum of African American History and Culture: Download a PDF with a guide on how to talk about slavery and freedom in age appropriate ways, an activity to inspire hope and activism, and a children’s book and online resources list.
  • Juneteenth Digital Toolkit | National Museum of African American History and Culture: Embrace the rich history of Freedom Day with educational resources, social media posts, videos, reading lists, and recipes.
  • Why Juneteenth is a complicated holiday for Hawaiʻi’s Black community | Honolulu Civil Beat: Hawaiʻi’s African American community has long celebrated Juneteenth, but 2021 was the first year that the day was officially recognized by both the state and the federal government.

Instructional resources

  • Juneteenth | BrainPop: A movie for students about Juneteenth with additional class activities.
  • Juneteenth | NearPod: In this one-minute video for grades 4–8, students learn about the history of Juneteenth and why Americans celebrate this date.
  • Slavery in America | NearPod: In this explainer video for grades 9–12, students learn about the history of slavery in the U.S., the triangular trade and the legislation surrounding this horrific institution, and the lasting legacy of slavery.