What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the U.S. and commemorates African American freedom — while emphasizing education and achievement.
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until much later.
Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as "Juneteenth," by the newly freed people in Texas.
Juneteenth marks our country’s second independence day. Although it has long been celebrated in the African American community, this monumental event remains largely unknown to most Americans.
On June 17, 2020 — June 19th Declared "Juneteenth Celebration Day" in Michigan
Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a proclamation declaring June 19th as Juneteenth Celebration Day in Michigan.
June 14, 2019 — Call for a National Holiday
Boston Globe columnist Renée Graham wrote that Juneteenth deserves an elevated status — noting that many African Americans regard the nation's July 4 holiday with deep ambivalence. Graham also mentioned that Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, "All men are created equal," owned hundreds of enslaved people."
She went on to say: "As a day marking American independence, July 4 is incomplete. Only with the freeing of those enslaved thousands in Texas could this nation try to claim Jefferson's lofty words as its own."
1980 — Texas declares Juneteenth a State Holiday
While Texas was the first state to observe Juneteenth as a state holiday, many others have since followed suit. Only five states do not recognize the day of celebration — Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and North Dakota.
July 2, 1964 — President Johnson Signs the Civil Rights Act
This act gave the federal government the power to enforce desegregation while prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin.
August 28, 1963 — Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" Speech
Dr. King spoke in front of roughly 200,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial. Now, a half-century later, his speech ranks among the all-time most inspirational in American history.
June 19, 1865 — Texas Slaves Finally Gain their Freedom
Even though they were officially made aware of the Emancipation Proclamation on this day, many slaves stayed with their masters as paid hands. Of those who chose to leave their former owners, some were tracked down and killed. The proclamation did not mean immediate freedom.
February 1, 1865 — 13th Amendment signed by President Abraham Lincoln
Only through the Thirteenth Amendment did emancipation become national policy. It was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865. The joint resolution of both bodies that submitted the amendment to the states for approval was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on February 1, 1865. Ratified on December 6, 1865, it was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments, adopted between 1865 and 1870 following the American Civil War.
January 1, 1863 — Emancipation Proclamation
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious (confederate) states "are, and henceforward shall be free."
Ways to Observe Juneteenth
Support Black-Owned Businesses and Invest in the Community
- Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB)
- Experience GR: 19 Great Black-Owned Restaurants in Grand Rapids
Attend a 2020 Juneteenth Celebration (source)
- Live on Facebook 6/19/20 at 9:30 am From Kent District Library: Join Wimee the Robot and friends for a Juneteenth celebration with stories, songs, and more! Special guest — Julian Newman, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, Leadership Strategist, Speaker, and Author
- Culture Freedom: A Juneteenth Festival
- Grand Rapids Freedom Festival 2020
- Power to the People 616
- Juneteenth Community Drive-By Parade
- NMAAHC — The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth
- NYT — So You Want to Learn About Juneteenth?
- NYT Interactive — How We Juneteenth
- Smithsonian Magazine — Juneteenth: Our Other Independence Day
- USA Today — What to know about Juneteenth
- TEDEd — What is Juneteenth, and why is it so important?
- Michigan Radio: Here's what you need to know about the history of Juneteenth in Michigan
- PBS — The African Americans Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: What Is Juneteenth?
- Christianity Today — Juneteenth Was an Answer to Centuries of Prayer
In Your Home
- Plan a special meal and gather the family together to acknowledge Juneteenth. Decorate your table and door with a Juneteenth theme and discuss what the celebration means today. Emphasize the mandates of responsibility and striving to be the best you can be. Make specific pledges for the remainder of the year and ask for support in accomplishing your goals.
- Plan a special gathering with friends to acknowledge Juneteenth. Exchange facts or quotes from history. Discern how certain significant and historical events have impacted your life today. Make it a point to thank those who have helped open doors for you to achieve.
- Read a book or watch a movie educating yourself on Black history and the Black experience.
In Your Community
- Encourage your libraries, post offices, city hall to host Juneteenth displays.
- Encourage your neighborhood to decorate and display Juneteenth yard signs and banners.