Juneteenth, A Celebration of Freedom

Written by
Department of African American Studies
June 17, 2022

What is Juneteenth?

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation; this established that all enslaved people in the Confederate States would be free. 

Since President Lincoln's proclamation intentionally only applied to areas under Confederate control and not those already under Union control, it did not immediately liberate all enslaved people. 

It wasn't until June 19, 1865, now known as Juneteenth, that Union federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and enforce the president's proclamation. A full two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation's signing.

In the years to follow, newly freed African Americans in Texas organized the first "Jubilee Day," which became the annual celebration of June 19th. As African Americans traveled from Texas throughout the country, the awareness and celebrations of Juneteenth also spread.

In 1979, Texas led the way by becoming the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. In June 2021, Congress passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday; President Biden signed it into law on June 17, 2021. 


How is Juneteenth celebrated?

People honor and celebrate in many different ways. Some communities host parades, music festivals, political events, pageants, and parties. Each event's motif is the unification of community and celebrating the legacy of change. 

However, we can expect bigger and more diverse celebrations now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday. With the nationalization of a holiday comes commercialization. This will undoubtedly continue to spark fears of losing its original meaning and purpose, evident in recent controversies regarding the use of Juneteenth by major brands and retailers to sell products. 


In recognition of Juneteenth and its legacy, The Department of African American Studies at Princeton, University interviews Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., the Chair of the Department: 

Where did you grow up, and how did your upbringing influence your understanding of Juneteenth?

I grew up in a small town on the coast of Mississippi called Moss Point, named after the moss that dangled from Magnolia trees. We didn't celebrate Juneteenth. So I came to understand the holiday as my knowledge of African American history expanded.  

What is your earliest memory of Juneteenth? Was this a holiday that you celebrated in your childhood? If so, what were some of your family traditions? If not, how did you come to embrace Juneteenth?

I don't recall any major events around the holiday in my town either. It was something we vaguely knew about, but it wasn't central to how we understood our experience as Black people in Mississippi.

Juneteenth only recently became recognized as a federal holiday in 2021. How do you think this national recognition influences its legacy in Black communities and in your own life now?

In some ways, it nationalizes the holiday. Communities like my own in Mississippi will now understand Juneteenth as an integral part of the celebration of the Black experience in this country. And I find myself, since Juneteenth was made a federal holiday, speaking across the country explaining the significance of Juneteenth for our national self-understanding. In a way, then, the holiday has become a critical part of my public intellectual work. 

What are the ways in which you personally and/or professionally keep the legacy of Juneteenth alive? 

Juneteenth offers another opportunity to tell a fuller story of the American experience. I take my task these days to involve telling a better story—a truer story (warts and all)—of the American journey. Juneteenth makes explicit the meaning and consequence of delayed freedom. We must grab hold of the lessons that follow from that moment as we confront the challenges of our own time. And we can do that with some good barbecue and red velvet cake!  


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