Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Celebrating Juneteenth

What is Juneteenth?

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

These words, known as General Orders No. 3, were read by General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas. While the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was delivered on September 22, 1862, and went into effect January 1, 1863, slaves in Texas wouldn’t know about it until June 19, 1865.

It was this day, two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered in Virginia, that troops arrived in Texas to regain control and ensure the freedom of those currently enslaved.

Even though it took several months for this to take effect across the state, the celebrating began immediately. In 1866, the first official celebration of Jubilee Day was held on June 19 and has continued as an annual tradition. As Black people moved out of Texas, the holiday spread across the nation. Today it is seen as the longest-running African American holiday.

Why do we celebrate?

Just like we celebrate our independence from England on July 4, we honor the day when freedom was granted to all in the United States.

How did people celebrate historically?

In the decades after the initial proclamation, Juneteenth celebrations grew to include prayer services, festivals, ceremonies and more. Parades were held to celebrate freedom from slavery and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation were included in commemorations.

Juneteenth was originally instated as a state holiday in Texas in 1980, but was officially established as a federal holiday just last year, in 2021.

How is Juneteenth celebrated today?

Today, the holiday is all about celebrating Black culture, history, and life. Many of the celebrations remain the same, with street fairs, ceremonies, parades and more happening around the country.

Food remains a major part of the celebration.  Traditional foods like pork, beef or lamb often compose the main dish.  Most meals are red to represent the resilience of the enslaved.

Miss Juneteenth Contests are held across the country each year with students vying for college scholarships. They are not contests focused on beauty. Instead the focus is all about empowerment, history, community service and honoring Black culture.

How can I celebrate?

Help make Juneteenth a national holiday

In 1980, Texas was the first state to adopt Juneteenth as an official holiday. In the decades since, nearly every state has followed, including New York in 2020. Efforts are being made to have it declared as a national holiday, and you can help too!

  1. Petitions on change.org
  2. Write your state’s members of congress

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