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June 21, 2023

What Juneteenth Means for Americans According to Teacher Opal Lee

Ask students: Who is Opal Lee? What does Juneteenth commemorate? How did Lee campaign for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday?


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In 1865, Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform the country’s last enslaved people that they had been freed under the Emancipation Proclamation. The day now known as Juneteenth was formally recognized as a national holiday two years ago, due in large part to the activism of retired teacher Opal Lee. She discussed the message of Juneteenth with Geoff Bennett.

For a transcript of this story, click here.

Remote video URL

Five Facts

  1. Who is Opal Lee?
  2. What does Juneteenth commemorate?
  3. Where did Union Army General Gordon Granger travel to inform the country’s last enslaved people that they had been freed under the Emancipation Proclamation?
  4. How did Lee campaign for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday?
  5. When did President Joe Biden sign a bill to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday?

Focus Questions

What do you think is the reason Juneteenth recently became a federal holiday?

News analysis: Why do you think the NewsHour interviewed Opal Lee to discuss Juneteenth?

Alternative: See, Think, Wonder: What did you notice? What did the story make you think? What story would you want to find out more about? Where would you go to learn more?

For More

What students can do: Activist and retired teacher Opal Lee said, “We have got too many disparities. I mean, the joblessness, the homelessness, the health care that some of us can get and that others can’t, and climate change that we are responsible for. We’re not free yet.” Research organizations in your town, city, state or even country that are working towards remedying racial discrimination across the country. Feel free to focus on one of the areas of discrimination that Opal Lee mentioned. 

Student Video of the Day (June 30, 2021)

Remote video URL

Republished with permission from PBS NewsHour Classroom.

More Resources on Teaching Juneteenth

With this collection of Juneteenth teaching resources, you will find lesson plans, activities and other materials to help educate and engage students in learning about the Reconstruction era history and politics surrounding the Juneteenth holiday, and the role Black joy plays in celebrating this heritage.

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PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.

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