A Journey Towards Freedom on Juneteenth

Today we celebrate the Federal Holiday called Juneteenth. On this day in Texas, June 19th, 1865, the good people of Galveston, TX learned from a Union Troops Major General that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved people were free.

  • “While President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it only applied to people in Confederate states, not those enslaved in Union-held territories (they were not freed until the proclamation of the 13th Amendment).
  • In Texas, a Confederate state where there was no large Union Army presence, slavery continued years after the Emancipation Proclamation — and even after the 13th Amendment was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 — as many enslaved people in the state were not aware of the news.
  • Finally in June of 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and Union troops landed in Galveston, Texas to tell the enslaved African-Americans living there that the Civil War had ended and that they were now free” (Good Housekeeping, Tonya Abari; June, 2022).


Enslaved people’s journey from Africa, central and south America, to America’s enslavement, and emerging to freedom officially on Juneteenth, is a long and strange trip. It doesn’t fit naturally into a beginning, middle or end of other stories….it is ongoing, dynamic and messy. What seems clear is the need to remember it, celebrate it, and continue to work on it. The journey begins many years before, continues with the Emancipation Proclamation, then with the 13th Amendment, and on into 1866 under the moniker of “jubilee.” Through many years thereafter, and right up to today, celebrations were used to remember the journey toward full freedom in America.

Badge of Courage

The Journey towards freedom is not over and more importantly, it needs our attention and our work to complete. Like a badge of courage, we need to earn this one. For example, we need courage to teach differently:

  • During her final coaching meeting of the year, veteran teacher Ashley (a pseudonym) remarked to her coach Lauren (coauthor), “As I’ve changed my practice, my students are engaged and learning so much more! I’m old-school. The way I taught is what I experienced as a student, but now I see it wasn’t working for my students.” (ASCD magazine, November 1, 2021, Vol. 79, No. 3).

The journey to freedom includes how we teach and how we learn. Teacher professional development, where teachers are learning on the job, is a critical place to advance our journey toward freedom. Ashely is typical of the learning support that teachers need.

  • A seasoned teacher of 15 years, Ashley taught 3rd grade in a racially diverse elementary school in an urban district. She had been paired with Lauren by her administrator and had been open to feedback throughout the coaching process. But she was also skeptical because the professional development she typically experienced was boring and ineffective, including work around culturally responsive teaching. In her first coaching meeting, Ashley was generally positive, but also revealed a deficit-oriented mindset about students: “Most of my students are fine, but some of them just don’t care.” (ASCD magazine, November 1, 2021, Vol. 79, No. 3).

Growth Mindsets

For our journey to continue toward freedom, and end deficit-oriented mindsets about students, we must re-orient our teaching towards inclusive teaching which I might define as a growth mindset for all students.

  • “According to Carol Dweck, the Stanford University professor who coined the phrase, having a growth mindset means believing that your basic qualities – like how smart you are or whether you’re good at math – are things you can change, through your own efforts and help from others. In her pathbreaking 2006 book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Dweck contrasted this with a “fixed” mindset, which is best summed up as “you have it or you don’t.” (U.S.News and World Report, by Gail Cornwall, April 14, 2022)

What parents and teachers tell children and students is that they are good at something! How great. The problem is if the children and students think their, “good at something” is fixed and will never change. Of course we know that all of this, “good at something,” is dynamic, changing, and up for improvement, just as we should guard against thinking that students just don’t care. Let’s make it happen together—caring for all students as they make their journey toward the freedom to live and learn well.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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One Response

  1. Wonderful Rob. The growth mindset would have worked for me as a student. Seems to speak to also learning together…teacher and student. I always felt like my public school teachers were just following the program, year after year. Very few gave me the impression they were dynamic learners.

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