As nationwide demonstrations force cities to grapple with the country’s legacy of slavery and racism, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday that the country’s largest school system will recognize Juneteenth as a holiday next year.
The day celebrates when federal troops arrived in Texas on June 19, 1865 — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed — and the last enslaved people learned they were free.
“Every city worker, every student will have an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of our history and the truth, and to think about the work we have to do ahead,” de Blasio said at a press conference.
More than 200 teachers in New York City marked this year’s holiday with a training session about the day and how history gets told, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said on Twitter. The education department also released lesson plans and prompts to use with students in their virtual classrooms, as school buildings remain closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Teaching and learning about Juneteenth is part of a broader education of the practice, impact, and legacy of slavery that speaks to Black history in this country — and therefore American history at large,” Carranza tweeted.
The mayor said he would work with labor unions to make the day a city and school holiday. He also announced the creation of a Racial Justice and Reconciliation Commission which will “create a historical record” of discrimination in various aspects of the city, including the education system, and propose policy solutions, according to a press release. Described as a “truth and reconciliation process,” the city said it would be modeled after similar steps taken by universities and countries including post-apartheid South Africa.
New York City schools are among the most segregated in the country, but the mayor has proved reluctant to push citywide solutions. Until recently, he avoided even using the word “segregation.”
Black Americans have long celebrated Juneteenth. But amid a historic push for civil rights playing out in American streets, an increasing number of cities, states, and private companies have recently announced that they would shut down to recognize it. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that it would be a holiday for state employees, and plans to recognize the day statewide next year.