Celebrating African American History

“Now I’ve been free, I know what a dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave.”   

– Harriet Tubman, American Abolitionist and Political Activist

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19 every year, is a national holiday that commemorates the end of slavery and the freedom of African Americans in the United States.

The History

On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing more than three million slaves in the Confederate states. However, it wasn’t until two years later, on June 19, 1865, that the news reached Galveston, Texas, to announce the freedom of over 250,000 slaves. This moment in history marked the end of bondage and the start of a journey toward freedom and equality for many African Americans.

Journey to Freedom

Fast forward more than a hundred years later and we’re still fighting to eliminate discrimination, systemic racism and disenfranchisement. The Civil Rights Movement, which became a war within itself, resulted in breakthroughs like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Each act moved us forward on the path to equality.

Still, brave activists like Angela Davis, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X and former President Barack Obama have continuously fought to eliminate many socio-economic inequities that impact African Americans. Namely, the lack of access to healthcare, the preschool-to-prison pipeline and inequitable resources for upward mobility.

Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth

The very first Juneteenth celebrations were spent prayering, feasting, singing and dancing. In 1872, a group of Black ministers and businessmen in Houston bought 10 acres of land to build Emancipation Park, now the oldest park in Houston, to hold their annual Juneteenth celebration. The park is now used for environmental and community programs and to preserve the integrity and history of the treasured landmark.

Texas became the first state to establish Emancipation Day, now known as Juneteenth, a state holiday in 1980. Over time, more than forty-five states adopted the emancipation celebration as a state holiday. Finally in 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Today, celebrations include festivals, parades, prayers, family gatherings, educational events, pilgrimages to Galveston and time spent honoring the achievements of those who came before us. Other ways to celebrate Juneteenth include flying the Juneteenth flag, attending a local Juneteenth celebration or simply informing people about the significance of the day.

Staying Well This Juneteenth

Unlike the last few celebrations, this year won’t be overshadowed by COVID, as the National Public Health Emergency (PHE) ended on May 11. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shared the following information regarding COVID health and safety:

  • Vaccines will remain available.
  • At-home tests may not be covered by insurance.
  • Treatments will remain available.

Juneteenth takes place on a Monday this year so be sure to plan your celebrations ahead of time, since not all workplaces are closed for Juneteenth. If you’re hosting a celebration with friends and family, have masks, hand sanitizer and any other personal protective equipment (PPE) available for those who might still be uncomfortable in large groups.

Learn more about the history of Juneteenth and ways to celebrate by visiting National Today.