What is Juneteenth and How Do You Celebrate?

people celebrating Juneteenth
by Najauna White
Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Is this the first you’re hearing about the holiday? If so, we’ve got you covered on what you should know about Juneteenth, ways that you can celebrate inclusively and what destinations are doing nationally to commemorate the holiday. 

History of Juneteenth

So, let’s start with the basics. What is Juneteenth? Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Liberation Day and Jubilee Day, is a holiday that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, the Union Army entered Galveston, Texas, informing the enslaved people there that slavery had been abolished. To bring you up to speed, the Emancipation Proclamation, which states, “that all persons held as slaves,” within the rebellious states, “are, and henceforward shall be free,” was signed in January 1863. That means it took over two years for the news of liberation and freedom to get to those enslaved in Galveston.

Historically, Juneteenth falls on the third Saturday in June, a date which always falls in the teens, hence the name, “June-teenth.” Present-day Juneteenth has quickly gained recognition in destinations across the U.S. as a day to honor, celebrate and acknowledge the people, journey of discovery, stories and modern-day effects of slavery in America. What started as a boots-on-the-ground effort has grown into supporting black businesses, communities and movements nationwide. And on June 17, 2021, U.S. Congress and President Biden officially signed a bill into law to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

How We’re Celebrating

With so many ways to celebrate Juneteenth, we want to start by sharing some of the ways that our team members have celebrated in the past as well as how they’ll be celebrating with family and friends this year:

In Boston, MA we always try to find a place to celebrate with all the black people in the community. Somewhere we can go to just eat, laugh, dance and BE. This year my family will start the celebration at home and end the night with everyone else at Franklin Park!” – Najauna White

“My family and I plan to celebrate Juneteenth this year in Chicago. I grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and the city’s Juneteenth Celebration is 38 years old. For as long as I can remember, my family would go to the festival where you could visit vendors, hear wonderful musical acts and eat a lot of great food. It was always a true celebration and one that I looked forward to every year. Although I associated it with being black and celebrating, I didn’t fully understand the significance of the date and the why behind the celebration until I became an adult. This Juneteenth, my family and I will participate in a parade and festival in the city of Evanston, Illinois, on Saturday. On Monday, we’ll visit the DuSable Museum of African American History, located on Chicago’s south side. We also plan to have some strawberry soda—freed slaves celebrated their emancipation by drinking strawberry soda, a luxury they hadn't been able to enjoy as slaves. So, it has since become a tradition to drink red soda on Juneteenth.” – Sebrina Williams

“Juneteenth has been celebrated since 1866, mostly by black Americans; however, I think it’s a day worthy of celebration by every American. Celebrations with my friends and family are centered around educating the community about Juneteenth while celebrating our freedom with good food, music and drinks. Throughout the years, the celebrations have ranged from simple backyard cookouts to soul food festivals to dressy day parties. This year, we will continue the tradition of getting together with good food, music and drinks to celebrate our freedom.” – Destiny Oliver

“I grew up in a biracial household, in a time when both extended families were more than a bit uncomfortable with my mother and stepfather’s relationship. My mother devised the idea of celebrating a family gathering in the middle of June that included a bake-off between sweet potato and pumpkin pies. In the early years, this was a way to bring both families together in a way that recognized the traditions held by each in a non-threatening—and tasty—way. Over the past 30 years, this tradition has continued and grown to include desserts from Japan, Cuba and the UK as the family has expanded. I don’t know if the timing of this gathering was intentionally associated with Juneteenth at its inception, but for us, this celebration of all that we share is how the holiday is marked.” – Jason Wolz

“In 2021, my family was in a new city (it was our first week in Portland, Maine) for Juneteenth. Luckily one of the city council members was a parent at our new preschool, so we found our way to the city BBQ and enjoyed hours of outdoor music and crafts. The city librarian also hosted a read-aloud with a few books on social justice.” – Dennis Koster

“My first and only Juneteenth celebration was in 2020 during the pandemic. My daughter’s dance teacher—who also works for a marketing communications firm by day—invited friends to a live stream of various entertainment, from poetry readings and dance to a DJ and storytelling. She was able to bring friends and family from all over the country and world together to celebrate artists from all over the country and world. Because I was invited to this, it was one of my first experiences with Juneteenth, as it was never taught in school. And it made me research what the holiday was all about. It was really special to experience and deepen my understanding as well as relationship with [her dance teacher].” – Abby Siegel

How Can You Celebrate in Your Destination?

Whether you’re looking to join in the celebrations in your area or want to celebrate safely at home, here’s what you can do:

  1. Tap into local resources. One of the best local resources is your convention & visitors bureaus, DMOs and/or state tourism offices. They will have event calendars, links and more to help find celebrations locally. Check out these examples: Visit Galveston, Destination DC, Greater Miami CVB.
  2. Reach out. Try and connect to local community members, activists, artists and creators in your area. The easiest way to do this is to follow them on social media (LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter) and reach out for ways to engage or even watch and comment on their posts and stories for local activities they may be participating in.
  3. Ask questions! Not sure how, what, when or where to start? Ask! Do you have team members who live in the same area and are celebrating? Do you have neighbors who may celebrate? Start by asking questions and getting connected.
  4. Educate yourself. Google is definitely your best friend! But if you’re unsure where to start, here are some links to help you learn more and find ways other people celebrate.

For many, Juneteenth is a pivotal and historic moment in our country. This holiday marks more than just a blog post or a day off. It’s a time to reflect, engage and develop memories with those they know and love. If your organization is unsure where to start, reach out and ask questions of those who do. Invest and donate within your communities, volunteer and serve and, most importantly, collaborate. We hope you get out safely and have a happy Juneteenth this year!

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