An image of emancipated slaves.
Image by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Juneteenth, a holiday recognized by African Americans and their allies in 47 US states, has been called many names throughout its 155-year history. To some, it is known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day to name a few.  Seeds of the annual celebration some consider to be more of an Independence Day than the 4th of July were planted on June 19, 1866. This intimate celebration was organized by newly freed men and women to commemorate the anniversary of the day Texas’ 250,000 enslaved African people learned of their freedom, officially ending slavery in all of the United States. The end of slavery did not signify the end of racism or even servitude, but the news delivered on June 19, 1865, was cause for celebration nonetheless, and African descendants all over the world have been dancing to the sound of freedom ever since.

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Whether you plan to spend the day alone, at work, or a cookout, use this June 19th to honor and recognize the sacrifices made, suffering endured, and success achieved in our ancestors’ fight for freedom with one of these 19 Historically Relevant Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth.

  1. Have a barbecue. The most common Juneteenth celebration is a barbecue or cookout with traditional food, music, and dancing. It’s the Texas way!
  2. See fireworks. According to stories passed down from former slaves, early Juneteenth celebrations featured homemade pyrotechnics using a tree and gun powder.
  3. Take a trip to the beach or pool. The end of slavery marked the beginning of Jim Crow in which African Americans were prohibited from simple pleasures like swimming.
  4. Invest in Black businesses. What better way to help build financial freedom than by supporting a black-owned business?
  5. Go shopping at Black-owned businesses. Newly freed slaves wore new clothes to early Juneteenth celebrations to signify their newfound freedom.
  6. Talk to your elders. Ask about their experiences, what being free means to them, and what advice they can offer for a life of freedom and prosperity. And don’t forget to ask for the recipes!
  7. Read Black literature. Since its inception, Juneteenth has been a platform for amplifying Black literature including books, essays, speeches, and poetry.
  8. Organize a family reunion. Following their emancipation, many of those freed set off to reconnect with family members that had been separated.
  9. See a new city. In the spirit of the Great Migration, get out and experience life in a new place.
  10. Go to church. Early Juneteenth celebrations also included sermons.
  11. Take the day off. However you decide to celebrate, take the day off from work for reflection, and to pay homage to the day’s historical significance.
  12. Volunteer. Embody the activism of our forefathers and foremothers by giving back to the community.
  13. Make traditional Juneteenth dishes your own. The traditional Juneteenth menu is centered around barbecue, prosperity foods like black-eyed peas, collard greens, and cornbread, and red foods like watermelon, strawberry soda, and red velvet cake.
  14. Host or attend a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. One of the oldest Jubilee Day traditions to still exist today is a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
  15. Participate in/promote a grassroots movement for equity. The most recent mainstream resurgence of Juneteenth was inspired by nationwide civil rights protests. Use your voice to spread awareness about inequity and injustice in your community and beyond.
  16. Discover a new historically Black safe space in your city. In 1872, a group of former Texas slaves collected more than $800 to buy 10 acres of open land, near what is now Houston, to use for annual Juneteenth celebrations. What safe spaces are in your hometown?
  17. Learn about African American history at a museum near you. Take a trip to one of the 7 Black History Museums Across the US Worth Visiting or check out a museum near you.
  18. Go to a concert. Support Black musicians with a live performance to celebrate Juneteenth and Black Music Month.
  19. Create fun learning activities for the whole family. Try a Black history scavenger hunt, storytime at your local library, or a Juneteenth flag paint and sip.

Juneteenth has evolved over the many years and many miles it has traveled, and I hope it will continue to grow with you. Spend this year getting in touch with your roots and encouraging your loved ones to do the same. There are so many meaningful ways to celebrate. Modernize your favorite Juneteenth traditions, practice some of the earlier customs, and be sure to exercise the freedom that was restored and made possible over time by our emancipation 155 years ago.