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Celebrating Juneteenth 2021

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

by Natalia Rice, Equity Officer, New View Alliance

Juneteenth is Saturday, June 19th, 2021. Keep reading to learn more about the history of the holiday and discover ways to honor, celebrate, and take action.

The History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth, also called Freedom Day, African American Independence Day, Jubilee Day, or Emancipation Day, is a federal holiday (as of June 17, 2021!) celebrating emancipation from slavery in the United States. A combination of “June” and “nineteenth,” this day commemorates the proclamation of freedom for enslaved people in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865.

During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863. This was an executive order which declared that enslaved people in the Confederate states were free. However, it wasn't until June 19, 18652.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, and 2 months after the Civil War ended— that those enslaved in Galveston, Texas (the westernmost state in the Confederacy) were released from slavery. On that day, approximately 2,000 Union troops led by Major-General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to announce that the Civil War was over and that the 250,000+ enslaved people in Texas were officially free.

Excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation

Excerpt from General Order No. 3, read by Major-General Granger in Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865

According to one account cited by Juneteenth of Buffalo: "On the evening of June 19, 1865, thousands flooded the streets of Galveston, rejoicing in their newly announced freedom. The sweet smell of barbecue smoke filled the air. Dancing feet pounded the dirt roads and harmonic voices sung spirituals. This was the day, Juneteenth, that would forever commemorate African American freedom."

It is important to note, however, that while we celebrate Juneteenth as the end of slavery in the United States, it would take several more months to legally enforce it. Slavery was not formally abolished until December 6, 1865 with the passage of the 13th Amendment, which freed enslaved people in Union territory. [1]

The Juneteenth Flag

Nevertheless, June 19th is recognized as a day of liberation, as a commemoration of the end of chattel slavery in the United States. While celebrations of this day first began in Texas, they have since spread across the nation. Juneteenth has evolved into a way to pay homage to ancestors and celebrate Black culture, liberation, and the achievements of Black Americans. This holiday also presents a powerful opportunity for critical reflection, social action, and examination of our progress towards racial equity and justice.

How can we honor and celebrate Juneteenth?

Note: There is an extensive collection of resources available online and in the community. Here are just a handful of ideas to get started.

Pictured: The Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo

Join the final mile of the BuffaloFreeThem Walk

The FreeThem Walk is an initiative by human trafficking restoration home, Project Mona’s House, and the FreeThem Center, headquartered in Buffalo. A group is currently walking 902 miles on the Underground Railroad to raise awareness about human trafficking, widely recognized as modern day slavery. On June 19th, 2021, the walkers will return to Buffalo and have invited the community to join them in their final mile. Want to be a part of the walk? RSVP at the link above.

Attend the Virtual Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo, June 19th-20th

Started in 1976 by B.U.I.L.D. Buffalo, Juneteenth of Buffalo ranks as the third largest in the country. Stay safe and take part in this year’s community celebration virtually! This 2-day online event will feature a virtual parade, entertainment, historical and cultural presentations, and more. Check out Juneteenth of Buffalo's website to also discover ways to support local Black-owned businesses through their collaboration with Buy Black Buffalo.

Watch What is Juneteenth and Why Do We Celebrate?

This animated video from BrainPOP is suitable for a variety of age groups and explains the history of Juneteenth.

The Center, located in Niagara Falls, NY, offers a collection of virtual and in-person learning resources

The time periods celebrated by the Michigan Street African American Heritage Area include the Abolitionist movement, the Civil Rights movement and several cultural and artistic renaissance periods.

This article by Afi-Odelia Scruggs dispels myths and misinformation surrounding the holiday and its history.

Pick up one (or all) of these Juneteenth books for audiences of all ages

Choose from a variety of books, articles, podcasts, videos, and anti-racism activities

Watch Ava DuVernay’s 13th for free online

This critically-acclaimed film explores the history of racial inequality in the U.S.

[1] But even then, there was a loophole. See Ava DuVernay’s critically-acclaimed film, 13th, or, Does an Exception Clause in the 13th Amendment Still Permit Slavery?

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