Juneteenth is a day to celebrate freedom and learn about the history of slavery.
It’s also a great opportunity to talk to your kids about these important topics, whether they are part of the Black community or not.
But talking to your kids about tough subjects can be challenging ‒ you might not want it to be too ‘heavy’ or upset them, but they’re fundamental to know in today’s culture and society.
So we asked our Peanut Community how they celebrate Juneteenth and how they’ve had conversations about it.
Because we need to be having these kinds of conversations ‒ it’s important to know where we came from in order to grow.
In this article: 📝
- What is Juneteenth?
- Are schools closed on Juneteenth?
- How to talk to kids about Juneteenth
- Juneteenth explained for kids
- How to celebrate Juneteenth
- More Juneteenth activities for kids
- Is it OK to say Happy Juneteenth?
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is a federal holiday, a reminder of the long and hard road African Americans have traveled to achieve freedom and equality.
It marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, and announced that the Emancipation Proclamation was in effect, freeing all enslaved people in the state.
While, technically, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, by Abraham Lincoln, many people consider it not fully in effect until the federal troops reached Texas, finally spreading the news to the entire nation.
Juneteenth is a day to celebrate freedom and learn about the history of slavery.
It’s also a day to reflect on the progress made and continue to work for a more just and equitable society.
Why is it called Juneteenth?
It’s a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth”.
But not everyone calls it Juneteenth ‒ some choose to refer to it as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, Black Independence Day, or Emancipation Day.
Are schools closed on Juneteenth?
Many schools are closed on Juneteenth (or the next working day), since it’s a federal holiday, as of 2021.
But whether schools are closed on Juneteenth depends on the school district.
Some private schools and universities may also stay open, too.
So if you’re not sure, it’s worth checking with your child’s school.
How to talk to kids about Juneteenth
So how can you start the conversation about Juneteenth with your child?
Here are some tips from our Peanut Community ‒ for moms of Black children as well as allies:
- Educate yourself first. Be prepared to answer their questions and talk about how and why you’re learning about it. If you don’t feel confident in your knowledge, there’s no better time to learn than now. Not sure where to start? Here are some great places for resources: The Juneteenth Foundation, Juneteenth Coalition, and The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
- Use language they’ll understand. How to talk about important things like race depends on your child’s age, the way they learn best, and the language they understand. For example, to a young child “a long time ago” could mean yesterday as well as 100 years ago. You know your child best, so speak to them in their words.
- It’s not too soon, and it’s never too late. The first eight years of a child’s life are when they build the foundation for their understanding of the world and their attitudes towards people in it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have these conversations with older kids and teens to help their understanding.
- Take time to explain new words. Even in the complex stories of history, there are topics young children can relate to, like love, fairness, sadness, and collaboration. You can start by explaining definitions and meanings of basic concepts like: Juneteenth, freedom, slavery, freedom, race, and discrimination.
- Be honest about history and current issues. Your child’s first introduction to race history and slavery shouldn’t be about trauma and shame, regardless of their race or background. Instead, focus on pride, empowerment, and celebration. Try not to position conversations around race or human differences as negative or something to avoid.
- Highlight the importance of freedom. Describe what freedom means in ways they can understand, so they can understand why it’s so important for everyone.
- Encourage your kids to use their voices to speak out against injustice. This is a powerful message that you can share with your kids.
- Don’t expect this to be a one-time conversation. Encourage questions at any time ‒ curiosity is a gift. You don’t have to know all the answers right now, but you can be prepared to find them out, together.
Juneteenth explained for kids
It depends on how old your child is, but here’s a brief explanation of the history of Juneteenth and why it’s important today, in easy-to-understand language:
“Juneteenth is a holiday, like Labor Day or Thanksgiving, held each year on June 19th, that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.
A long time ago, on January 1 in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed something called the Emancipation Proclamation.
‘Emancipation’ means ‘freedom from slavery’, and ‘proclamation’ is an official way of making something into law.
Back then, many Black people in America were forced to be slaves, so they weren’t free to do what they wanted to, and some were treated badly.
But the news had a long way to travel ‒ across the nation ‒ and they didn’t have fast ways of traveling back then.
So it took two and a half years for the news to get all the way from Washington, DC to Galveston, Texas.
The federal troops finally got to Galveston, the last place to tell about the Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19, 1865, which is why we celebrate June 19, or Juneteenth, now.
When people found out they were freed from slavery, they were very happy.
There were parades in the streets and people got together for parties, with singing and dancing.
So that’s why we celebrate Juneteenth today, to remember that joy and to keep moving forward so everyone’s free to be who they are.
It can be a sad day for some people, too, because it reminds them that their family ‒ their great-grandparents or their great-great-grandparents ‒ were made to be slaves before they were freed.
And some things still aren’t fair today, especially for People of Color, which includes Black people, so Juneteenth can be a reminder of how far we’ve come, but also show how far we have to go.
So for Juneteenth, we celebrate the freedom of slaves, but we also learn about what they went through, and what we can do to be better and more fair today.”
How to celebrate Juneteenth
So, what are some Juneteenth celebration ideas to commemorate the day with your kids?
And how can you celebrate Juneteenth with your family as an ally?
Well, there are lots of ways you can show your support, learning and celebrating along the way:
1. Dress in Juneteenth colors
There are a few ways you and your kids can dress to show your support for Juneteenth.
If you’re keen to honor your African heritage, you can wear some traditional African clothing, like colorful raffia dresses from the Kuba people, a toghu from Cameroon, a boubou from Senegal, or a Kente outfit from Ghana.
If you’re not comfortable with wearing African clothes, you can wear the Juneteenth colors ‒ there are a couple of color combos to choose from!
Cultural appropriation is something to consider, too ‒ if you don’t have African heritage, it can be seen as odd to wear African clothing, especially clothing with religious or cultural significance.
2. Watch Juneteenth movies
These don’t have to be movies about Juneteenth, they can be movies celebrating Black history and Black stories.
There are lots of options for Juneteenth movies for kids that are family-friendly, here are a few of our favorites:
- The Color of Friendship on Disney+
- The Proud Family Movie and The Proud Family: Louder And Prouder on Disney+
- Dancing in the Light: The Janet Collins Story on Netflix
- Shaka Zulu: The Citadel on Apple TV
- Hair Love on YouTube
- Black Panther and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever on Disney+
- Remember the Titans on Disney+
- March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World on Apple TV
- Ruby Bridges on Disney+
- Our Friend, Martin on Xfinity
- The Princess and the Frog on Disney+
- Garrett’s Gift on Kanopy
- Queen of Katwe on Disney+ (for older kids)
3. Eat Juneteenth food
There are a few traditional Juneteenth foods you can enjoy around Juneteenth ‒ with your family, friends, or your community:
- Red foods, like red beans and rice, watermelon, red drinks, and hot sauce, represents “sacrifice, transition, and power”, according to Michael Twitty for Oprah Daily, harking back to when cochineal was more commonly used to dye foods red.
- Barbeque, especially serving bigger animals to feed the community, like goat, pork, or beef.
- ‘Prosperity sides’, like corn, collard greens, yams, and cornbread ‒ side dishes that represent good fortune or wealth.
- Juneteenth cake, like red velvet cake, colored with either cochineal or beets.
If you don’t fancy cooking, why not stop by a local Black-owned restaurant to show your support?
4. Read Juneteenth books
If your kid’s a bookworm, they’ll love these Juneteenth books for kids!
They’re a great way to get them engaged and asking questions, ideal for preparing them for Juneteenth, or as a bedtime story so they have time to think about what they’ve learned.
There are lots of books for kids of all ages, here are just a few of our faves:
Juneteenth books for pre-schoolers
- Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
- Our Skin by Megan Madison
- Dreams of Freedom by Amnesty International
- Your Skin, My Skin by Laura Henry-Allain
Juneteenth books for kids aged 5-8
- Different Differenter (activity book) by Jyoti Gupta (Author), Tarannum Pasricha
- Let’s Talk About Race by Karen Barbour
- The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
- Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano, PhD
Juneteenth books for kids aged 9-12
- Stampted (for Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
- Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
- Me and White Supremacy: Young Readers’ Edition by Layla F. Saad
- Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Juneteenth books for young adults and teens
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Dear Martin by Nic Stone
- Stampted: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
- When You Look Like Us by Pamela M. Harris
And some Juneteenth books for you
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
- The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
- How to Raise an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
- White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
5. Play Juneteenth songs
When it comes to Juneteenth songs, it’s all about singing loud, dancing to the beat, showing your pride, and supporting Black artists.
There are lots of great songs you can play on Juneteenth (and any time of year) that highlight key moments in Black history and celebrate Black culture, but honestly, we think this playlist by @AliyaFaust is a great place to start for some tunes.
But if you’re after a kid-friendly Juneteenth playlist with no swearing, this playlist by Noodle Loaf is perfect ‒ it was created for Black History Month, but it works just as well for Juneteenth.
More Juneteenth activities for kids
- See if any nearby museums have any exhibitions on Black history
- Help develop their concentration and fine motor skills while learning about Black history with some Juneteenth coloring pages. A few of our favorites are from Stevie Doodles, Crayola, Homeschool of 1, Best Coloring Pages for Kids, and Beeloo.
- Ask them some questions about Juneteenth ‒ it helps them understand it better if they can phrase it themselves. Some questions you could ask are: “How do you think it felt to be freed?”, “What date is Juneteenth?” and “Why do you think we celebrate Juneteenth?”.
- Go to a Juneteenth celebration in your community. There are usually parades, festivals, and other events around and on the day.
- Volunteer your time together to a local organization that works to improve the lives of African Americans.
- Donate to a charity that supports African American causes. If you give your child an allowance, ask them if they want to donate, too ‒ but try not to force them to if they don’t want to.
- Fly the Juneteenth flag ‒ whether you buy one online, sew or knit your own, or color one in, put it somewhere everyone can see.
Is it OK to say Happy Juneteenth?
Yes, you can say “Happy Juneteenth” ‒ most people do.
The day is, of course, linked to a troubling, dark history, but the day itself is a day of celebration.
It’s important to learn about the reasons for Juneteenth in the lead-up to the day (and keep supporting throughout the year), but it’s still a happy day itself.
It’s totally normal to be concerned about whether you should say “Happy Juneteenth”, though ‒ as an ally and as an African American.
But we should still acknowledge the day as an American holiday ‒ it’s an important part of American and Black culture and history.
Juneteenth is a day to celebrate freedom, pride, equality, and resilience.
It’s a day to learn about Black history and culture, and to come together as a community.
So go out there and celebrate Juneteenth with your family in your own way!
Juneteenth is a day for all of us to come together and celebrate.
So let’s do it!