Celebrating Juneteenth: America’s Second Independence Day

June 19, 2020 - (3 min read)

Today, June 19, is Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It was on June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that enslaved Black people were now free.

This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which became official January 1, 1863.

Historically, Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of four million enslaved Black people, especially those to whom rightful freedom was delayed two and a half years.

This year’s commemoration coincides with national uprisings calling for police reform and an end to systemic and institutionalized racism. Decades of government-sanctioned policies, practices, and procedures have been laid bare as leaders at all levels are confronted with demands for more accountability and equitable policies from their residents.

In addition, we honor the overlap of Juneteenth and Pride by recognizing that Black queer women and Black trans people, including Ella Baker, Marsha P. Johnson, Councilmember Phillipe Cunningham of Minneapolis, Andrea Jenkins, Audre Lorde, Luticha Andre Doucette, and Angela Davis have played and continue to play a critical role in the fight for intersectional racial equity and justice.

This year, Juneteenth has also gained prominence in the corporate world. More than two dozen Fortune 500 companies have publicly stated their support for it as a paid holiday and announced their decision to make it one for their employees.

Traditionally, communities typically celebrate Juneteenth with block parties, festivals, dances, performances, seminars, and other festivities. Not surprisingly, this year many cities cannot hold these celebrations in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, many localities can honor Juneteenth as an official holiday and publicly reaffirm their commitment to racial equity and antiracist policies, practices, and procedures. Cities can also hold a virtual event to celebrate Juneteenth and center the work of their community’s Black organizations and groups.

Want to learn more about Juneteenth and its importance? Below are a few resources.


About the Author:

Ian Snyder (he/him/his) is an independent contractor with the Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative. His work focuses on cities facing racial tension and working to embed racial equity in antiracist local policy, practices, and procedures