The live music drew me toward the stage. I passed traditional African and African American food vendors with piping hot cuisine and perused the tents promoting religious or social causes as I meandered toward the locally known rapper. Smiling with my friends, I observed the masses of people also in attendance. This was my first Juneteenth celebration.
Juneteenth Independence Day is an annual state holiday that celebrates African Americans’ freedom from slavery. Congress, the District of Colombia, and 43 states (all but Hawaii, North and South Dakota, Montana, New Hampshire, Arizona, and Utah) remember the holiday every June 19. This year commemorates 150 years since slaves in Galveston, Texas, heard that the Emancipation Proclamation had freed them.
The Texan slaves heard the good news on June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted, and a month after the Civil War ended. Texas was the first state to pass legislation making Juneteenth Independence Day a state holiday, and the first celebration as such occurred in 1980.
Celebrations of Juneteenth may vary, but one thing stands out among all the festivities: community engagement. This is a significant way for African Americans to remember their heritage and take pride in their ancestors, who played a vital role in building the United States as we know it. Non-black members of the community are also invited to participate in the festivities, extending the meaning of “community” to the entire neighborhood at hand.1