For Our Children: Honoring Juneteenth by Asserting the Freedom to Read 

June 19, 2024 |

On June 19, 1865, Union troops delivered the news to enslaved people in Galveston, TX, that they were free. But this “news” wasn’t exactly new. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation officially conferred their freedom on January 1, 1863, reinforced by a Confederate surrender in April 1865. A crucial element of the Juneteenth story is that for nearly 30 months, the white supremacists who held all political and economic power in the South withheld information that could empower and animate the enslaved Blacks on whose subordination their way of life relied. It was a powerful and effective strategy while it lasted: The less they know, the less they’ll dream. 

It was so powerful, in fact, that white supremacist heirs to the Confederate legacy are reprising it in today’s book bans. Under the guise of protecting children from “inappropriate” content that might make them uncomfortable, those with economic and political power seek to preserve the current order by preventing Black, brown, LGBTQIA+, and other marginalized children from seeing themselves as agents in their own lives and in our common history. Numerous jurisdictions have banned books in schools and libraries like… 

  • Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson saved Apollo 13, which recounts how a Black woman Katherine Johnson became an accomplished mathematician and played an integral role in the early space program 
  • Discovering Wes Moore, the current Maryland governor’s autobiographical account of two fatherless boys named Wes Moore—himself and another Wes Moore from the same Baltimore neighborhood who is serving a life sentence for murder 
  • Something Happened in Our Town, which follows two families — one white, one Black — as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children’s questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives. 

These are just three of the 4,240 unique book titles the American Library Association (ALA) reports were targeted for removal from schools and libraries in 2023—a 65 percent surge in titles over 2022 and the high-water mark in the ALA’s 20+ years of tracking. Not surprisingly, nearly half of those titles represent the voices and lived experiences of Black, brown, and LGBTQIA+ people.  

The CDF Freedom Schools® program stands as a pillar of resistance to this movement to silence voices and erase history. The 100+ titles selected each year for the CDF Freedom Schools curriculum–including the three titles above for 2024—widen the lens of those who have contributed to American history in significant ways. They also provide mirrors on experiences similar to their own that validate young readers and connect them with their own power to make change. This year, CDF will dedicate its annual National Day of Social Action to protecting the freedom to read. Each of the 200+ CDF Freedoms Schools sites will lead local activities on July 17 to promote access to books that reflect broader history and diverse life experiences. And on this 60th anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom Summer that inspired CDF Freedom Schools into existence, CDF will also lead the 60 for 60 campaign for 60 authors and illustrators of books placed on banned-book lists to participate in a morning Read-Aloud at local CDF Freedom Schools sites across the nation. 

As we commemorate this Juneteenth, let’s take time both to celebrate and to remember how much work remains. May the spirit of this holiday inspire all our vigilance against efforts that will prevent young people from growing up with dignity, hope, and joy.