Forever Free: Juneteenth Then And Now

June 19 is a special day in American history, particularly in the history of Black Americans.  It is a day that is still recognized in many communities for its importance in the progress of the country, and its name sits in the history of celebration the same way Independence Day does across the nation. And on June 17, 2021, it was signed into law by President Joseph R. Biden as a federally recognized holiday after votes of assent from both the US House of Representatives and Senate. 

Freedom Day

On June 19, 1865, opens a new window, the last group of enslaved people in the United States heard the recitation of the Emancipation Proclamation, opens a new window. In Galveston, Texas, several thousand Black slaves were gathered to hear the proclamation, written by President Abraham Lincoln and carried throughout the Southern States by the Union Army, and told they were free. And had been for over two and a half years, as it had gone into effect on January 1, 1863. (With limited Union occupation prior to 1865, most Texan slaveowners had just...neglected to inform their slaves that they were no longer thus.) While January First was a nationwide day of celebration to former slaves and their children, June Nineteenth, coined Juneteenth, was a day of celebration as well, first in Galveston, then throughout Texas, where it would spread to the surrounding states and then across the country as The Great Migration pushed the children and grandchildren of former slaves into other parts of the country.

Read more:

Student Resources in Context, opens a new window

US History in Context

Official Juneteenth Site, opens a new window

Juneteenth at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Books and Film about Juneteenth

Watermelon & Red Birds

On Juneteenth

Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free




Come Juneteenth

Miss Juneteenth

Juneteenth on Kanopy

Celebrations Across the Nation

Nowadays, Juneteenth is celebrated less politically, but no less joyfully. Different communities have different ways of celebrating, including parades, parties, church services, concerts, vigils, reenactments, and even public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation. Texas has made it an official state holiday, and other states have followed. After the efforts of many for several years, it's been made a national holiday, though many states and municipalities have yet to add it to their holidays calendar. Regardless, there have been regular celebrations for the day in Tucson for over fifty years. Visit Tucson Juneteenth to learn more.

What are you doing this June nineteenth?

(Originally published in 2016.)