What Is Juneteenth? It Commemorates an Important Day in American History

Do you remember learning about Juneteenth in elementary school, middle school, or high school? I do not recall learning about Juneteenth until I attended college. I am a Black woman and can say that almost all of American history taught in schools is whitewashed.

Juneteenth—also known as Freedom Day and Black Independence Day—is an American holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation, meant to free all enslaved people in states that had seceded from the Union, was put into place on January 1, 1863. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that this news reached the last group of enslaved people in Texas.

Juneteenth is a local observance or public holiday that is recognized in 47 states and Washington D.C., according to USA Today. According to Time and Date, some state employees in states where Juneteenth is observed have a day off work, but many other businesses (and post offices) will be open, though hours and other details vary.

Still, Juneteenth is not a federal holiday. Outside of the Black community, there has been a minimal interest to celebrate this holiday in the United States. There is a campaign for Juneteenth to become a national holiday or observance throughout the nation.


READ: Juneteenth in the United States


History of Juneteenth

The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, meaning all enslaved people under Confederate control were now free. Although this was issued in 1863, enslaved people under Union control were not freed until the 13th Amendment was ratified two years later. 

This happened due to the lack of troops available to deliver the message across the United States. On top of slow-spreading news, not all people who held people in slavery wanted to free enslaved people, as they saw them as property. Even after emancipation, some refrained from releasing enslaved people until the 13th Amendment made slavery unconstitutional. It was passed in the House in early 1865, but wasn’t ratified by the states until the end of the year.


READ: History of Juneteenth


Although Black people were “free-ish” in America by the ‘60s, they still faced segregation, racism, and multiple forms of police brutality, to name just a few oppressions. Today, Black people still face some of the same issues of systematic racism and rarely receive justice.


Celebratory traditions for Juneteenth

Juneteenth is traditionally celebrated with historical readings and family discussions, a red drink like strawberry pop, and plenty of food to go around. Barbecuing is perfect for Juneteenth celebrations, as it makes sharing food easy and the irresistible smell honors our ancestors above. 

Another traditional dish is called the Marcus Garvey salad—named after Garvey, a Black nationalist—which is made with red, green, and black beans. 

Red is a common color associated with the cuisine of Juneteenth celebrations. Many believe this color represents the bloodshed by enslaved people who fought for their freedom. The color red has been a symbol of strength and unity in African cultures for centuries. Adrian Miller, a culinary historian, told Atlas Obscura that the red drinks associated with Juneteenth are linked to kola nuts and hibiscus plants. These two fruits were used as water purifiers and treatments for illnesses.


Celebrating Juneteenth in 2020

It is essential to celebrate this holiday as members of the Black community and as allies. It’s important to look at how far we’ve come and to brainstorm ways we can continue to progressively change for the better. Whichever way you choose to celebrate this year, please do it safely. Follow the recommended CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.


Raise the flag 


Raise the Juneteenth Flag and invite the community and local civic leaders to join the activity. Discuss with your neighbors and officials (at a distance) on how to continuously instill positive change for the community.


Decorate the block 


Encourage your neighborhood to make signs to decorate the block with Juneteenth decorations. Giving members of your community bits of information about the holiday is a creative and great way to educate your community.


Hold a socially-distanced barbecue 


Plan a gathering with family and friends (no more than 10 people)! It would be good to exchange historical moments as well as current events that have affected the Black community. Give thanks to your ancestors and remember to pass down the history to the little ones. Please remember to follow the CDC guidelines and wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet away from one another, and only touch elbows to greet.


Sign petitions to make Juneteenth a national holiday 


According to Juneteenth.com, “The future of Juneteenth looks bright as the number of cities and states creating Juneteenth committees continues to increase. Respect and appreciation for all our differences grow out of exposure and working together. Getting involved and supporting Juneteenth celebrations creates new bonds of friendship and understanding among us. This indeed brightens our future, which instills the spirit of Juneteenth in all of us.”

Although Juneteenth is not a national or federal holiday, we can still celebrate it and continue to in the future. Sign petitions for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday.


Order takeout from a Black-owned restaurant 


There are many restaurants that need your support right now due to the economical effects of the pandemic. Find Black-owned restaurants in your area to support the holiday and give back to your small businesses. 

For more ways to safely celebrate Juneteenth this year, check out this list.