On June 19, the United States will celebrate Juneteenth, a federal holiday also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day. It commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and the end of slavery in the United States.

The History of Juneteenth

According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. Granger issued General Order No. 3, which proclaimed freedom for all enslaved people in Texas.

His proclamation occurred over two years after the President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Due to various factors, such as the lack of Union troops to enforce the proclamation and resistance from slaveholders, the news of emancipation only reached Texas with Granger’s arrival.

While African-Americans have celebrated Juneteenth since 1865, it is only in recent years that there has been a growing recognition and observance of Juneteenth in the U.S. Efforts to make it an official national holiday gained significant momentum over the years, and Congress passed a bill to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021.

Later, President Joe Biden signed the bill into law to make Juneteenth an official holiday. It was first observed on June 19, 2022.

Related: Celebrating Diversity in Student Organizations Like AALIGN

How to Celebrate Juneteenth

Juneteenth celebrations often involve community gatherings, parades, picnics and other festivities. It is a time for reflection, remembrance, and the celebration of African American culture and heritage.

Some ideas to celebrate Juneteenth include:

  • Educating yourself: Take the time to learn about the history of Juneteenth and its importance. Start your research by reading books and articles that provide insights into the experiences of enslaved African Americans and their struggle for freedom and equality.
  • Attending Juneteenth events: Look for local Juneteenth events in your community, such as parades, festivals, concerts or cultural performances. Attend or volunteer for these events to show your support and engage with your community.
  • Volunteering or donating: Look for opportunities to volunteer with local or national organizations that support social justice, racial equality, or community development. You can also donate to nonprofits working towards these causes. Consider organizations focusing on education, youth empowerment or resources for marginalized communities.
  • Engaging in meaningful dialogue: Initiate conversations about the significance of Juneteenth and the ongoing fight for racial equality. Talk to friends, family, and colleagues to raise awareness and promote understanding.
  • Exploring African American culture: Use Juneteenth to explore and appreciate African American culture. Listen to music genres such as jazz, blues or gospel. Watch movies or documentaries that showcase African American history, art, or achievements.
  • Supporting activism: Consider joining or supporting grassroots movements or organizations that work towards racial justice and equality. Participate in peaceful protests, sign petitions or engage in community activism.

These are just a few examples of celebrating this day, but there are many more.

Related: Noteworthy African American Pioneers in Mathematics

Celebrating Diversity at Commencement 2023

During Commencement 2023’s GradFest, the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Council recognized Juneteenth. We displayed Juneteenth resources and giveaways at our table and held a book raffle, and we also provided a QR code for Juneteenth web resources and a collection of student/alumni stories.

The DEIB Council and AALIGN table at the 2023 Commencement GradFest. Image courtesy of the author.

I had the honor to volunteer at this table during GradFest. It was beautiful to see students’ eyes light up when they saw the books they had read in their classes or were interested in reading. I hope each winner of the books will enjoy and glean information from them.

Additionally, the African American Learning, Inclusion, & Guidance Network (AALIGN) student organization organized a virtual Juneteenth bingo game for the university community.

Juneteenth is a time for celebration, remembrance and reflection. It is an opportunity to recognize African Americans’ struggles and achievements throughout history and commit to the ongoing work of racial justice and equality.

It is incredible to see this holiday celebrated nationwide and the sense of community and unity that it represents. Happy Juneteenth to all!