ST PAUL, Minn. — On June 19, 1865, slaves in Galveston, Texas, were informed of their freedom. The announcement came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
And yet, most of us didn't learn this history in school. In fact, it wasn't until 2021 that Juneteenth became a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
Now, both Minneapolis and Saint Paul Public Schools are taking it a step further by making Juneteenth an official school district holiday. In St. Paul, the district's Board of Education approved a resolution last week, giving all employees a paid vacation day on or around June 19, depending on when the holiday falls. A Minneapolis spokesperson also confirmed Juneteenth will be a paid holiday for MPS employees for the first time this year.
"We have a lot of things to improve upon but this is a beautiful beginning," said Damitrius Coleman, second grade teacher at St. Paul's Benjamin E. Mays International Baccalaureate World School.
"The district has taken a bold move to say we're moving and being progressive in our racial equity and making sure that this is a forefront conversation and not just lip service," added Dr. Kenneth Turner, principal of the same school.
Meanwhile at Four Seasons A+ Elementary, fourth and fifth grade teacher David Taylor said, "It's not about being a paid holiday. It's about recognizing the holiday and, you know, obviously in a capitalist society, you do that through money."
As Superintendent Dr. Joe Gothard explains, the resolution also encourages Minnesota lawmakers to make Juneteenth an official state-recognized holiday.
"States like Texas, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington, a few others," Gothard said, "we just feel that we want to be on that list. We want to be a state that recognizes this and embraces this."
In the meantime, while not required, some educators are taking it upon themselves to teach students about Juneteenth.
"Some students will be here during summer," Turner said. "When we come back in the fall, now we have a nice slate to say okay how do we introduce this and have these conversations about what Juneteenth really is."
"I hope that we can continue to let them know in school as well as that day," Coleman added.
Gothard says many students and families have shared that they want to learn in this way.
"They want to see their past and their histories reflected," he said.
KARE 11 also reached out to Anoka-Hennepin Schools, which is often counted as Minnesota's largest school district. A spokesperson says, when the district added Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a district holiday based on a recommendation from its district calendar committee, that same committee discussed Juneteenth but did not recommend adding it at the time. We're told discussion centered around bargaining groups and summer work schedules.
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