As many college campuses work to increase their commitment to supporting diverse populations and empowering students to engage in social and racial activism, celebrating and honoring Juneteenth as a holiday is critical. A federal holiday in the United States and a commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, Juneteenth holds major significance in the lives of Black Americans and the history of our country. Celebrations for Juneteenth are diverse and may include Black cultural celebrations, inspirational speeches and songs, marches and protests, and gatherings with family and friends. Despite the importance of this day, many still don’t understand the meaning of Juneteenth, how it came to be, or how to acknowledge the holiday. Let’s change that right now.
The history of Juneteenth
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, originated in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 when federal troops arrived to ensure all enslaved people be freed. This day came two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, declaring all states engaged in rebellion against the Union should be free. In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday that has been celebrated annually on June 19th across the world.
Juneteenth has taken on an entire new significance since it was officially recognized as a federal holiday in June 2021. In a nation that was founded on anti-Black violence and with the historical and present-day exploitation of Black Americans, the recognition of this day as a federal holiday represents the acknowledgment of America’s racist past and its commitment to ensuring the experiences of Black people are celebrated and honored.
Related: Timeline of Important Events in Black History
How to celebrate Juneteenth and support Black communities
For students who want to learn more about our nation’s history and expand their knowledge on Black history cultural celebrations, learning about Juneteenth is important. Here are six ways you can celebrate and acknowledge this important holiday.
Learn the full history
Given that the history and cultural significance of Juneteenth is rarely discussed in high school and college classes, students may have to learn about it outside the classroom. The summer months are a great time for reading and learning about history and culture. Here’s a list of fiction and nonfiction books focused on Juneteenth as well as freedom and equality for Black Americans. Visiting a museum focused on Black history and culture is another great avenue to learn more. Some may believe the emancipation of slavery symbolized the end of racism for Black Americans, but racism and discrimination remain very prevalent. In addition to learning about Juneteenth, it’s also important to learn about how contemporary racism manifests today.
Attend Juneteenth events
Juneteenth is a celebratory holiday, and many cities may celebrate and acknowledge the day with protests and marches, fairs, gatherings, and museum exhibits. With COVID-19 restrictions shifting or ending, many communities may be holding more in-person celebrations. Check your city’s event directory or local library to find local and free events you can attend. The National Museum of African American History & Culture also lists various virtual programs and events.
Listen to Black artists
June is also Black Music Month, and music is a great way to learn about and appreciate Black culture and history. If you have access to Spotify, check out popular playlists like “Black Lives Matter,” “Black Girl Magic,” and the “Black Power Mixtape.” Listening to Black artists on your preferred streaming platforms supports the musicians and their work. You can take it a step further by purchasing your favorite artists’ music or attending a concert.
Related: 5 Great Recommendations for Books by Black Authors
Support Black businesses
There’s a significant wealth and income gap among Black and White populations in the United States, with Black people having less access to wealth. Less access to wealth leads to economic insecurity and inhibits them from buying homes, starting and raising families, and paying off student loans. Today, Black women entrepreneurs are starting businesses at record rates, and supporting these businesses increases their access to generational wealth while revitalizing their communities. Unfortunately, Black businesses often face challenges in building visibility and revenue, but your support can increase their longevity. Some cities may offer fairs or markets exclusively for Black vendors to sell their products to the public, or you can check out this directory of Black businesses.
Volunteer at voter registration drives
Some of the first Juneteenth celebrations were political rallies. The right to vote has always been a sacred privilege in the Black community—and Black people’s ability to participate in the electoral process is still highly contested and controversial. With continued incidences of voter suppression, Black people are constantly feeling threatened and intimidated at voter polls. Getting involved with organizations like Rock the Vote and Fair Fight is a great way to spread awareness about voting rights.
Donate to social justice organizations
The US is not a post-racial society, and racism and discrimination still play a daily role in the lives of Black people. Social justice organizations that address inequities facing Black populations focus on issues pertaining to voting rights, police brutality, health care, and more. The Black Lives Matter Movement originated in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in 2013 and became a national movement and slogan to end policy brutality and amplify local and national dialogue around state-sanctioned violence. Similar organizations and movements are grassroots efforts that depend on funding from community members. This Juneteenth, consider donating to organizations that empower Black people.
Related: Increasing College Access for Underserved Students
Juneteenth is focused on celebrating Black culture, history, and life—but most importantly, it honors Black historical heroes who played a role in the emancipation of slavery. Students who learn about diverse histories have better interpersonal and communication skills and thus are more likely to be engaged in social activism and change. Over the past few years, the inhumane treatment of Black and Brown people has become more publicized, which has led to more people advocating for the humanity and protection of people of color. Juneteenth is a great time to renew your commitment to social justice and learn about diverse cultures.
Find more blogs and articles to keep learning about and celebrating your diverse peers in our College Diversity section.