There have been precious few moments in the history of the United States when federal holidays have been declared. Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day are a few examples of dates when the whole country pauses to recognize momentous contributions to our history. Juneteenth — a celebration of the emancipation of enslaved peoples in the U.S. — was signed into law as a federal holiday in 2021, making June 19th our newest such day of honor.
In this article, we’ll explore the story surrounding June 19th, discuss meaningful ways to celebrate this day, and share our favorite places to travel to commemorate Juneteenth.
History of Juneteenth
Schoolbooks used to teach that slavery effectively ended in the U.S. on January 1, 1863, with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The truth, however, is far bleaker than this. The Civil War would continue to rage until 1865, meaning that enslaved peoples in confederate states didn’t enjoy emancipation until after the end of the war.
Texas was the last to emancipate because The North simply didn’t have enough troops to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. It wasn’t until June 19th, 1865 that General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, TX with enough troops to enforce freedom throughout the state. Before General Granger’s arrival, many enslaved peoples in Texas didn’t know they’d been legally emancipated for nearly two years!
How Juneteenth is Celebrated
Juneteenth celebrations arose shortly after General Granger’s order as a way to both celebrate freedom and reflect on the suffering experienced by generations who lived in bondage. Early celebrations included prayers and family gatherings.
Today, Juneteenth celebrations occur all over the United States and involve both social gatherings and events that honor and celebrate African-American culture. For example, Galveston hosts a multi-day gathering that includes a reading of General Granger’s historic order, an emancipation celebration gospel concert, a parade, and much more.
Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, or Liberation Day.
How You Can Celebrate Juneteenth
The first step is to understand the history behind Juneteenth. Juneteenth.com is the online hub to understand the background of the holiday along with ways to respectfully celebrate it.
You could also celebrate the ideals of Juneteenth by making commitments to support black-owned businesses throughout the year, leading a Juneteenth event at your workplace, or traveling to a destination that honors the holiday.
While the history of Juneteenth may have started in Galveston, the key is to celebrate it in a way that’s respectful, meaningful to you, and that honors the essence of the day.
The Best Places to Travel to Commemorate Juneteenth
- Galveston, TX — Galveston offers Juneteenth events during virtually the entire month of June. If you make it to town over the June 19th weekend, you’ll get to experience things like the Emancipation Gospel Concert, guided freedom tours, a reenactment of the reading of General Granger’s order, and much much more.
You can check out the full calendar of events here.
- Montgomery, AL — Montgomery is hosting a series of Juneteenth events such as the Manifest Liberty Gala, a Juneteenth celebration at the Rosa Parks Museum, and a large festival at a downtown amphitheater.
Beyond these events, Montgomery is an important destination to honor and understand the history of enslaved peoples in the U.S. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum are two must-see destinations on any Montgomery itinerary.
- Washington D.C. — Juneteenth in Washington D.C. will be one of the largest emancipation celebrations in the country that features a block party, theater performances focused on issues of liberation, Juneteenth art exhibitions, the Freedom Day Music Festival, and more.
While you’re there, be sure to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture for a fully immersive experience into the history of issues surrounding emancipation.
- St. Helena Island, SC — This island is an important addition to a Juneteenth itinerary not for any specific celebration, but for what it means to the history of the holiday.
St. Helena Island is home to the Penn Center, the first school in the south for formerly enslaved peoples. Today, the site is a wonderful museum that will walk you through the history of emancipation starting with Lincoln’s historic proclamation.
- New York City — Few places match The Big Apple for its ability to host a monster event that celebrates an important historical legacy. NYC will be featuring art exhibitions throughout the city, a march through central park, block parties, musical events, and much more to commemorate Juneteenth.
One must-see Juneteenth event in NYC is I Dream A Dream That Dreams Back At Me — a musical celebration that features numbers such as a deconstructed National Anthem that remixes Francis Scott Key’s national melody.
- Chicago, IL — This midwestern metropolis has a long and storied history as a perceived bastion for African Americans seeking better opportunities and freer lives than the south historically offered.
While the results may have been mixed, these migrations cemented Chicago’s place in the story of emancipation and freedom. The DuSable Museum of African American History is a wonderful spot that’s also hosting several events around the Juneteenth holiday. The city also hosts a Juneteenth BBQ and block party right by the DuSable Museum.
The Gallery Guichard is another terrific stop on a Chicago Juneteenth itinerary because it features some of the finest artworks in the city related to the African diaspora.
Here’s a full list of Chicago Juneteenth events.
- Atlanta, GA — Atlanta truly goes all out for Juneteenth. They’ve been celebrating the holiday in fine style for decades with a stellar array of concerts, festivals, museum tours, the 5k Freedom Run, and more.
While there, be sure to visit the over 300 Black-owned vendors at the Juneteenth 10th Annual Atlanta Parade and Music Festival.
Here’s a full list of Juneteenth events in Atlanta.
- Auburn, NY — Nestled in the Finger Lakes of New York State, Auburn is a beautiful testament to the history of emancipation. It was here that Harriet Tubman based herself as she fought her long and hard battle for the emancipation of enslaved people.
The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park is hosting events during Auburn’s four-day celebration of the Juneteenth holiday. For example, you could join the guided ‘Hike Through The HIstory of Harriet Tubman’ walking tour to visit historical sites and listen as a ranger explains the important history of Auburn in the context of June 19th.
See the full list of events here.
- Tulsa, OK — As the site of the Tulsa Race Massacre, Tulsa reckons with a troubled past. In 1921, Tulsa’s Greenwood District — known as the black Wall Street — was decimated by a white mob. Despite this history, Tulsa has worked hard to never forget the tragedy and to honor Juneteenth in important ways.
The Greenwood Rising Museum is an important place to travel to understand the gravity of that event. Tulsa also hosts a festival with music, a block party, art exhibits, and more that celebrate the freedom gained on June 19th.
Tulsa’s Juneteenth events are hosted on historic Greenwood Ave. See a full list of events here.
- Los Angeles, CA — As an international entertainment hub, it’s little wonder that LA is a terrific place to commemorate Juneteenth. The city is packing the entire month of June with arts and cultural events to celebrate freedom won.
For example, the Juneteenth Art x Culture Festival is a day-long event featuring music, food, and panel discussions with notable African American authors. The Hollywood bowl will also be hosting a tremendous slate of musical performers including their first-ever performance of an all-black symphony orchestra.
Here’s a full list of Juneteenth events in LA.
The story of Juneteenth is one that was long in the making, but long stories are often some of the best. As you travel this June, be sure to consider an itinerary that explores the important history of emancipation of enslaved peoples in the U.S. Juneteenth is a time to honor those people, understand their history, and celebrate the freedom gained.