Juneteenth is one of the oldest commemorations to celebrate the end of slavery in the United States. In 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and his Union soldiers were the ones to deliver the amazing news. On June 19th, they arrived in Galveston, Texas, and shared that slaves were officially free. Texas was late to the game, as this came two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Nevertheless, this day would go on to become a widely known and celebrated moment in Black history.
How come I’ve rarely (or never) heard of Juneteenth?
Juneteenth celebrations have a long history going back to the mid-1800s. However, it was only celebrated within the African American community, and primarily in Texas. Even then, there was always some sort of resistance against people who wanted to celebrate this day publicly.
Another huge impact was what textbooks began teaching students about slaves being freed. Much like what kids learn today, slavery seems to end with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and completely overlooks General Granger’s impact. Over time, economic and cultural forces would also push the celebration of Juneteenth more and more out of the way.
Related: 10 Children’s Books to Celebrate Juneteenth and Black Liberation
Not to mention, since July 4th had already been an established holiday, more focus was placed on this celebration versus any other involving patriotism and freedom.
The Rise of Juneteenth Celebrations
Paving the way in ensuring June 19th would be a day to remember, Texas made Juneteenth an official state holiday. Thanks to the efforts of Al Edwards, Juneteenth would go down as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition in the state of Texas. Since then Mr. Edwards has sought to see this come to pass in every state across America.
Celebrations in Modern Times
With places of business such as the Smithsonian and the Henry Ford Museum hosting Juneteenth-centered activities, celebrating this holiday takes on a whole new meaning. Local and national organizations have begun to join forces to ensure African American communities are receiving the proper recognition for their freedoms, especially on June 19th. We’re seeing now the celebration of African American freedom as well as accomplishments, achievements, and the promotion of self-development.
Related: Road Trip Ideas: Places to Visit Experience Black History
Cities and states are beginning to form committees to ensure June 19th is a well-respected and meaningful celebration for all who would like to remember and participate.
Top 7 Places to Visit for Juneteenth Celebrations
Holding its first Unity Walk back in 2015, this town doesn’t disappoint when it comes to celebrating Juneteenth. Several hundred people will typically attend festivities held at Memorial Park put on by local businesses and organizations.
Lake Charles, LA
Heading south, this community meets the Juneteenth holiday with plenty of food, fun, and music. It is common to see dancing performances and choirs sing at their local Lake Charles Civic Center. You may even be able to participate in a BBQ kickoff and a Sickle Cell awareness balloon release.
Fort Worth, TX
The Fort Worth and Arlington communities typically offer an exhibit that features more than 60 photographs from across the state. “The exhibit is on display at the University of Texas at Arlington’s Central Library and is co-sponsored by UT Arlington Libraries, UT Arlington History Department, and Center for Greater Southwestern Studies.” (reference here)
You can expect thousands of people to show up for this city’s Juneteenth celebration. As of last year, they’ve upped their activities by providing a march and educational services. You can learn about the census, the importance of voting, and information about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over 70 black-owned restaurants come together in Chicago in support of the Juneteenth holiday. Their motive is to support the community, save them money, and keep them safe while observing the holiday.
Home of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, U Street, Meridian Hill Park, and the African Amerian Civil War Memorial – this is an ideal city to spend your Juneteenth. Even if you don’t plan to attend any activities or services, you can still make visiting the attractions a great way to honor Juneteenth.
Memphis is another city known for embracing the heart of African American culture. This alone makes it the perfect place to visit for a Juneteenth Celebration. Consider stopping by infamous locations such as Beale Street Baptist Church, the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, and the National Civil Rights Museum. While you’re there, be sure to try some of their famous bar-b-que!
Other Ways to Observe Juneteenth
If traveling to any of the aforementioned cities isn’t quite on your radar, there are other ways to observe Juneteenth. You could always fire up your grill and cook some favorite foods. Or, grab a couple of related movies to watch and play a few games for a fun, relaxing celebration. If you feel comfortable, get together with a few families at a local park. Come together for fellowship, food, and fun. Consider volunteering with a local organization that may have activities and services they are providing to your community.
Juneteenth Should Always Be Celebrated
Juneteenth is an important part of American history, especially for Black Americans. It is not a time that should be forgotten. Even if you simply tell the truth of it to your children, that alone will leave a legacy. Nationally recognized or not, it is a holiday that is worthy of reflecting on and remembering. I’d love to hear from you! How do you celebrate Juneteenth?