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A Year After Nationwide Protests, District Promises for Racial Equity — Juneteenth Gains Legal Popularity, but Misses Classroom Recognition

6/17/2021 | Marianna McMurdock

The 74

Former U.S. education secretary John King, who recently wrote about living 25 miles away from where his great-grandfather was enslaved in Maryland, put the growing awareness of Juneteenth into the larger context — and increasingly fraught debate — of teaching in greater depth about America’s racist past.

“We have a responsibility to struggle for an America that is more true to the promise of equality of opportunity, and a critical part of that struggle is ensuring that we tell the full story of our history in our social studies curriculum,” King told The 74.


A former social studies teacher himself, John King says Juneteenth is one chapter in a much greater story about the oppression and triumphs of Black Americans and other historically excluded racial groups. King, who is now running for governor in Maryland, said he regularly incorporated Juneteenth as a part of his Civil War and Reconstruction teachings.

“We should be advocating for inclusion of the study of the institution of slavery, resistance to Reconstruction, emergence of Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow, history of Japanese-American internment — we have to include all of those things, because that is the truth of the story. We also, at the same time, should be telling the story of the first Black elected officials during Reconstruction, and we should be telling the story about African Americans’ resistance throughout,” King said.


While these teacher-driven efforts to honor Juneteenth suggest a budding and real commitment to imparting a history that includes Black Americans, others urge for sustained, structural change in schools and communities.

“One of the key questions about Juneteenth is if it’s just performative — just a moment, and not a serious district-wide effort to advance racial equity — then to me it’s grossly inadequate to the moment,” King said.