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What is Juneteenth, and Why Do We Celebrate?

Juneteenth has come to symbolize for many African Americans what the 4th of July symbolizes for all Americans: freedom.
Juneteenth, BK Reader
Juneteenth celebration in Austin, Texas, on June 19, 1900 Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, June 19, 2019, is Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day.

Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of more than 250,000 slaves at the close of the Civil War.

The holiday is based on events that occurred mainly in Texas, but it is now celebrated nationally and is recognized as a state holiday in 37 states of the United States, including New York.

The name Juneteenth is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, a celebration that takes its name from the day Union troops, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the Proclamation had taken effect on January 1, 1863, it freed few, if any, slaves.

News of the war's end and the executive order to end slavery did not reach Texas until two and a half years later, well after the Confederate Troops' surrender at Appomattox.

Since emancipation, the Juneteenth holiday celebration has experienced a rise and decline amongst African Americans, due to various economic and societal forces beginning in the early 20th Century.

In the early years, little interest existed outside the African American community in participation in the celebrations. In some cases, there was outwardly exhibited resistance by barring the use of public property for the festivities.

The Depression forced many blacks off farms and into the cities to find work. In these urban environments, employers were less eager to grant leaves to celebrate this date, unless it fell on a weekend. Additionally, July 4 was the already established Independence Day holiday, and so a rise in patriotism among Black Americans steered more toward this celebration.

Rep. Al Edwards. Photo credit:

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s yielded both positive and negative results for the Juneteenth celebrations. While it pulled many of the African American youth into the struggle for racial equality, some began to tie the Juneteenth holiday to the historical struggles of their ancestors, as opposed to their more recent struggle against the pernicious Jim Crow laws.

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas through the efforts of African-American state legislator Al Edwards. Edwards successfully passed a bill granting state recognition to Juneteenth as an official holiday and emancipation celebration.

Today, Juneteenth is a time for reflection, rejoicing and self-improvement and planning for the future. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month of family gatherings and celebrations.

Juneteenth has come to symbolize for many African Americans what the 4th of July symbolizes for all Americans: freedom.

Local Juneteenth Celebration

This Saturday, June 15, at Gershwin Park, Umoja Events will present the 10th annual Juneteenth NYC Festival, celebrating the 154th anniversary of "Freedom Day," with a dynamic lineup of interactive activations, games, a marketplace and performances.

This year's theme, "Back to the Future," will celebrate diverse traditions, art and foods of the past and present while highlighting what connects people of African-American backgrounds, the Pan-African diaspora and beyond.

Set to draw over 3,000 people, Juneteenth NYC has a full day program of performances, games and activities plus the annual Unity Parade joined by guided by a steel pan band, marching band, dancers, elected officials and community members.

The Juneteenth NYC community festival is open and free to all ages. Attendees are asked to represent their cultural background by wearing an item that identifies their culture to encourage open conversation and a display of diversity.


Umoja Events presents the 10th Annual Juneteenth Celebration

When: Saturday, June 15, 11:00am - 6:00pm | To RSVP, go here.

Where: Gershwin Park, 800 Van Siclen Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11207