What is Juneteenth and How Can I Celebrate?

June 18, 2020


Cassandra Campbell

Even if you loved history as a kid, you might not have ever heard of Juneteenth until just recently. But guess what?!! Juneteenth is not a new holiday. African Americans have been celebrating this day of freedom for over 150 years. Wanna learn more so you can celebrate Juneteenth, too? Awesome! Let's go!

How was Juneteenth first celebrated?

At first glance it may look like any other patriotic picnic. But African Americans used this time to reunite with family they were kept from, as well as honor those elders who had spent the majority of their lives enslaved. As time passed, Juneteenth was a celebration day, and a time to commemorate those formerly enslaved elders. As less and less enslaved family members were still living, the greater the honor that was bestowed. So, not only was it a family picnic to celebrate freedom and reunification, it was also a time to reflect on the past and all that African-Americans achieved despite all they had to endure.

“Juneteenth almost always focused on education and self improvement.”


How can you celebrate it today?

Aside from the delicious list of food to consume on Juneteenth, you will want to gather your family around to commemorate what this momentous day stands for. As they did in the past, today we can carry on the tradition of celebrating culture, and educating ourselves. Reflecting on the past sacrifices, and the great contribution African Americans have made to this country, and the steep price they paid for it. As it says on the website dedicated to the education of the day, Juneteenth.com, “Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.”

celebrate Juneteenth, photo by Chip Dizard
Photo by PHOTOGRAPHER & EDUCATOR, Chip Dizárd of ChipDizardWeddings.com

When did Juneteenth start?

While many Americans would say the freedom of slaves in the United States came with the Emancipation Proclamation, they would only be partially correct. When President Lincoln signed this famous document, it excluded several states that held onto their right for legal slavery. According to the National Archive, who holds the papers signed at the beginning of 1863, “It applied only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy.

Juneteenth - what is it and how can we celebrate it?
“Emancipation Day in South Carolina” Jan 1, 1863 – Library of Congress

Despite the bloody war raging on for 3 years already, the fight for slavery was really just intensifying. After the signing on January 1, 1863, the vision for a completely free America was taking hold of hearts across the country. With every advancement of the federal troops, more mileage was won for freedom.

Freedom for all

With Texas lying far beyond the Union line, troops did not arrive until two years later, to claim Texas and spread the good news. The day was June 18, 1865 when Major Gen. Gordon Granger and his Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas. The next day, June 19th, he addressed the public upon arrival: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

freedom for all - the end of slavery!
Juneteenth Celebration in Richmond, VA (Emancipation Day)
 Library of Congress

While freed men and women were encouraged to stay and become employees of their former “owners”, many fled north to reunite with family members they had been ripped from. Others stayed and set up new neighborhoods made up exclusively of former slaves. And still others were kept in the dark about their freedom. Several slave-owners of Texas did all they could to keep their plantations running with slaves through the harvest season. On that day in June, more than 250,000 slaves were declared freed. Thus, finally ending all slavery in America. From that day forward, June 19th or Juneteenth, is known and celebrated as Freedom Day. The first day All Americans were truly free.

inspirational quote by Opal Lee, 93 year old activist

What was it like on June 19, 1865?

Felix Haywood, a Texas freed person (originally born in North Carolina), was working on a cattle ranch outside of San Antonio in 1985 when Federal Troops arrived. He shared his memory of that first Freedom Day in June.

“Soldiers, all of a sudden, was everywhere–coming in bunches, crossing and walking and riding.  Everyone was a-singing.  We was all walking on golden clouds. Hallelujah!….Nobody took our homes away, but right off colored folks started on the move.  They seemed to want to get closer to freedom, so they’d know what it was  like it was a place or a city.” More found at BlackPast.org

What is Juneteenth and how can I celebrate it?
Photo by WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER & EDUCATOR, Michelle Harris of MHarrisStudios.com

Take Aways

Let June 19, 2020 be the day this nation comes together. No matter your race or religion, every person in the United States can celebrate this day of unified freedom for all. Remember these things that every Freedom Day should include, and you will be set for every Juneteenth from here on out!

  1. Celebrate – Gather your loved ones (even if it's via Zoom or Facetime), and enjoy some delicious food, and toast to our freedom with a favorite drink! The table is a powerful place to build and strengthen families, and communities.
  2. Educate – Just like they would gather the elders to share tales of all they had accomplished despite all they had to endure, you can do the same today! From family friendly books about Harriett Tubman to the galvanizing Netflix film, 13th, this is a day to learn from the past. Then we can properly honor those who made great sacrifices for the country we now live in.
  3. Activate – With full bellies, empowered understanding of our past – let's make a change! Share your knowledge and keep learning. You can join our book club on Instagram or start your own. Get involved in your local boys and girls club. Give back and make a difference in our country's future. Together we can, and will be, the difference. So let's choose to make that difference a positive one.
Juneteenth is a national holiday
Opal Lee has been campaigning for Juneteenth to be a National holiday

Our Commitment

This year marks 155 years that African-Americans have celebrated their freedom and achievement in this country. Juneteenth is a day all Americans should celebrate, and we intend to do exactly that. As of Monday, June 16th 2020, Showit chose to recognize June 19th as an official company holiday to commemorate and celebrate freedom, empowerment and achievement.

We are taking time this weekend to celebrate, educate ourselves, and be active in our community. Our commitment is not just to reflect and make steps for change on Juneteenth this year, we are committed to creating change every day, for the generations to come.

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Casandra is a born and bred East Coaster who finds herself braving the heat of the Valley of the Sun with her husband and three cute kids all for the love of Showit.