News & Views

Juneteenth: The Holiday You Need to Know

Juneteenth is the celebration of the actual end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865.  While many have been celebrating this holiday for years, widespread recognition has only begun recently now that America is listening to black voices more than ever before. Today, 42 states celebrate Juneteenth. In New York, Governor Cuomo is advancing legislation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in 2021.

As America starts making real change in response to pleas from the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against continued systemic racism, more states will observe Juneteenth as an official state holiday (if it’s not yet a federally mandated one) by 2021. While celebrations have included annual festivals, productions, and even memorial ceremonies in the past, this year’s Juneteenth is the latest to add to the growing list of things affected by the novel coronavirus. Depending on where you live and which phase of reopening your state is in, you may be celebrating in different ways from other cities and states.

What is Juneteenth?

While many credit this end to the Emancipation Proclamation, set into motion two years earlier on January 1, 1863, it only freed slaves within the rebelling Confederate states, not every slave in America at the time. To further taint America’s history of civil rights, emancipation was justified at first not as a fight for equal rights, but as a calculated maneuver to cripple the already crumbling economy of the Confederacy and win the Civil War.

Because Lincoln’s primary concern was to keep the Union intact, he was careful to exclude the four border slave states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri) as well as areas within the Confederate states that weren’t in open rebellion or already under Union control. Texas, although Confederate, didn’t see many Union troops and remained mostly removed from the war. It became a safe haven for slave owners, including those who relocated from out of state, to continue their slave operations in the Lone Star state without much penalty.

Shortly after the Civil War officially ended on May 13, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston on June 19th to free the 250,000 still enslaved in Texas. Celebrations broke out for those who were freed immediately (some enslaved didn’t hear the news until after harvest season ended) and the government ratified the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865.

Where to celebrate this year 

DCI recognizes that our industry of place-makers has an imperative to respond to racial inequality. We wanted to take the time to highlight how so many cities and communities around the country are celebrating a holiday that deserves more attention than ever this year. While we may not all be able to travel or attend an event in person this year, we’re excited to see so many celebrations will be online and plenty of inspiration for you and your community to plan ahead for next year!

The earliest events we found on the calendar this year were those organized by the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation of Alabama and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute as they kicked off celebrations around the city a full week in advance. June 19th celebrations include a march, a party in the park and another in the Downtown Ensley Business District.

Miami is one of the many cities celebrating Juneteenth through marches for George Floyd, vigils for Breonna Taylor and peaceful protests for a better America. Los Angeles has walks and rallies scheduled throughout the day. New York City’s events have become countless as @justiceforgeorgenyc keeps updates coming by the hour on Instagram.

Virtual opportunities

With many social distancing measures still in force, other destinations are taking a digital approach. New Orleans has moved celebrations online while also suggesting a list of historic sites one can visit on their own. Similarly, while Berkeley’s 33rd Annual Juneteenth Festival has been canceled, multiple virtual events are happening in the Bay Area.

Greensboro organizations in North Carolina are hosting a day of virtual Juneteenth activities. Events include cooking segments, historical perspectives, arts performances, panel discussions and more.

While Cincinnati usually spends the day celebrating in Eden Park, with this year’s social distancing requirements, the 33rd Annual Juneteenth Festival will instead be celebrated on YouTube, Vimeo, and several local television stations starting at 7pm EST with a feature-length video concert (preview here).

The Chattanooga Area Chamber is hosting a Diversify Virtual Summit on Zoom to highlight diversity, inclusion and the 21st century workplace.

Are you in Texas? Or would you like to feel like you are? Stay Black and Live: A Virtual Juneteenth Celebration hosted by The Austin Parks and Recreation Department’s George Washington Carver Museum will feature music and poetry sets on Friday, from 6pm – 10pm CST.

If you’re anxious for even more, BlkFreedom.org, a partnership of six black museums from around the country are coming together to celebrate the 155th anniversary of freedom. Juneteenth 2020: Justice, Freedom, Democracy is a video commemorating the end of slavery. It will be released on Friday at 12pm EST.

Whether it’s virtual gatherings on in-person ones, we are excited that these peaceful, celebratory events will take a more prominent role in the country’s pantheon of commemorations. While the fight for racial justice continues, it is equally important to celebrate the milestones and battles already won, and destinations nationwide will rise to the occasion this June 19th.

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“My people have a country of their own to go to if they choose… Africa… but, this America belongs to them just as much as it does to any of the white race… in some ways even more so, because they gave the sweat of their brow and their blood in slavery so that many parts of America could become prosperous and recognized in the world.” 

-Josephine Baker

Written By

Liz Groeschen

Liz Groeschen is DCI’s Senior Manager of Content and Social Media. Since joining DCI in 2019, Liz has strategized and overseen content for a diverse set of clients, including the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, Baton Rouge Film Collective, and California’s Huntington Beach.

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