17 Jun What is Juneteenth and How to Celebrate It
Juneteenth—a combination of the words June and nineteenth—is an unofficial national holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to establish control of the state and ensure that all remaining slaves were freed. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two and a half years earlier, slavery had continued largely unchecked in Texas, with many enslaved individuals unaware of their legal right to freedom. General Gordon Granger’s arrival to Galveston in 1865 led to the liberation of more than 250,000 slaves—just a fraction of the millions of men, women, and children enslaved throughout American history, but a cause for celebration nonetheless. This historic day did not stop slavery in its tracks, but it does mark a significant cultural milestone in our nation’s history.
Today, Juneteenth signifies a day of both celebration and remembrance. According to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, Juneteenth can be thought of as “our nation’s second independence day…a time to gather as a family, reflect on the past and look to the future. Discover ways to celebrate this African American cultural tradition of music, food and freedom.”
The recent highly publicized murders of black people at the hands of police is tragic evidence that racism is still rampant in our country. This Juneteenth, many communities will gather in remembrance and solidarity, looking towards the future while also honoring their grief in response to the countless lives lost to acts of racial violence. For a timeline of black deaths and protests over the past few years, click here.
This year, a number of events (both in-person and online) will be held across the nation in an effort to acknowledge the history of racism in America while simultaneously providing space for intergenerational healing.
Click here to learn more about an in-person event commemorating Juneteenth in Richmond, Virginia.
Click here to learn more about an online event that provides a nonhierarchical space for people to process the impact of historical trauma.
Other gatherings this Juneteenth highlight the therapeutic value of the arts. Hosted by the Museum of the City of New York, this event brings the healing power of expression to the complex and at times dehumanizing definition of ‘freedom’ in the United States.
A number of educational institutions will also be hosting events to commemorate Juneteenth this year. Organized by the University of Michigan, the Juneteenth Symposium is a weeklong series of events aimed at bringing U-M faculty, students, and community members into a shared space. The goal of the symposium is to unite people in educating themselves about the past while also actively working to create a more inclusive future. The event features various modes of presentation, including lectures that expound upon the history of racism, artistic reflections, and discussions regarding both policy change and personal experience.
Throughout the month of June, EHN has been posting daily Instagram stories with links to help learn about and celebrate this important holiday. Click here for a comprehensive list of resources.
Mackenzie McDonald earned her B.A. in Communication Studies from the University of San Diego. Her professional experience in journalism, marketing, and social media includes working for a women-led apparel company and writing for her local online newspaper. She is deeply passionate about the work Empower Her Network is doing and is thrilled to be a member of EHN’s Marketing Committee.