In my student-teacher days in college, back when I thought I wanted to be a teacher, I taught a lesson in an English literature class at Cass Tech, a predominantly Black high school in Detroit. The text we were studying had a reference to “40 acres and a mule.” Ignorant of what this meant, I skipped over it.

After the class ended, the teacher pulled me aside and took me to task. I had to admit that I didn’t “know as much as I should” about “African American history.” Her blistering reply still burns in my heart: “It’s not African American history. It’s U.S. history.” This idealistic, privileged, white girl had been stopped in her tracks. It was humbling and embarrassing, to be sure, but I learned something in that hard, no agonizing, conversation that I hadn’t learned in any book or course. I began to see something of my feelings and attitudes, those deeply rooted cultural norms that I took in as a child and never really questioned as an adult. And many years on, I am still learning, still examining, still rooting out hateful and hurtful biases.

So in honor of Juneteenth, which the U.S. government has just made a federal holiday, I challenge those who may not know much about Juneteenth and why it’s significant to ponder this: What do slavery, emancipation, and freedom mean to you? Are these like terms in a history book that your eyes skip over…and if so, why? What’s in your heart?

Learn more about Juneteenth

What does “40 acres and a mule” mean?

written by Nancy Faerber
Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay