Juneteenth: Ways to Honor the Importance of Emancipation Day While Centering Black Americans

Community members gathered at the Say Their Names Cemetery for a candle light vigil on June 19, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo Courtesy: Eze Amos/Getty Images

Originating in Galveston, Texas, Juneteenth commemorates the day a Union general read General Order No. 3, an announcement which transmitted the news of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, thus informing enslaved people in Texas that they were free. When folks in Texas finally heard the news of Lincoln's executive order on June 19, 1865, the American Civil War had been over for two months — and the Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed in 1862 and went into effect on January 1 of the following year, was already two and a half years old. 

Of course, the Thirteenth Amendment took Lincoln's wartime measure further, putting in place a "constitutional guarantee" of "perpetual freedom," and, thus, abolishing slavery in all states. Still, the momentous news issued in Texas on June 19 led many formerly enslaved people to celebrate with song, dance, prayer and feasts. The following year, Black Americans in Texas commemorated the day with the first Juneteenth celebrations. 

Even though Juneteenth commemorates such a key moment in history — and, in many ways, is a truer Independence Day for more Americans — a recent Gallup poll showed that more than 60% of Americans know "nothing at all" or only "a little bit" about the day. In fact, it only became a state holiday in Texas in 1980 — nearly 100 years after the pivotal day. In 2020, amid the historic resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, some companies began instituting official days off for their employees on June 19. And, just two days before June 19, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, making it a federal holiday. 

So, whether you have the day off, are just learning of Juneteenth, or have celebrated it for years, we're taking a look at what the holiday means to Black Americans — and how you can commemorate the day and honor the continuing fight for liberation.