While Juneteenth was officially recognized as a federal holiday in 2021, this pivotal moment in history has been celebrated by African Americans and their loved ones for over 150 years. Commemorating the end of slavery, June 19, 1865, marks the day when enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free—nearly two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
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Today Juneteenth holds growing levels of importance within Black families and communities, but the ongoing commitment toward freedom remains central to this joyous occasion.
With some help from our friends and fellow Hallmarkers, we compiled lots of ideas, activities and more to help inspire your Juneteenth celebrations. No matter how you choose to celebrate, you’ll be joining plenty of others in a long tradition of Freedom Day festivities.
Among those who celebrate, commemorations can include everything from parades and music festivals to family reunions and street fairs. While no two celebrations are exactly alike, kinship, community and family remain common themes among many.
As you start exploring ways to celebrate Juneteenth in your own backyard, here are some tips to discover what’s happening in your area:
- Check your local library for upcoming Juneteenth programming.
- Find nearby festivals, parades and events open to the public.
- Explore your own community’s Black history.
- Support local Black-owned businesses and restaurants.
- Visit African-American museums.
- Donate to a local charity or organization working to improve Black health, education, voting rights and more.
“On Juneteenth, the Black community would gather on the grounds of Attucks School to celebrate with cookouts, music, live bands, basketball tournaments and more.” — Casandra W.
Not everyone grew up learning about Juneteenth, which is why educating ourselves and others can be a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday. No matter how much you think you know, there’s always more to learn. Whether it’s story time with the little ones or settling in with an insightful podcast, here are a few resources to start learning more about the inspiring history behind Juneteenth.
“Juneteenth is an opportunity to learn more. I want to encourage people to learn more. What was happening in your local area and what can you learn about your own backyard?” — Nicole D.
- For Adults: On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
- For Children: Opal Lee and What it Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan
- And for all you book lovers out there, check out this Juneteenth reading list.
“I highly recommend the book The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, a great fiction story that depicts an African-American family history from slavery to today.” — Abby J.
- “The History and Meaning of Juneteenth” (The Daily)
- “Celebrating Juneteenth: A Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation” (NPR)
- “Honoring Juneteenth with Ibram X. Kendi” (Vox Conversations)
“As an adult, I am more educated around the history of Juneteenth and participate with more awareness. The Grandmother of Juneteenth, Opal Lee, is from Fort Worth, Texas, which is just next door to where I live now.” — Casandra W.
“There’s no way all our history can fit into a textbook—it’s so big, so long and way too special. So we should always be learning about what we don’t know.” — Sydney J.
- Miss Juneteenth (2020) is the story of a mother and her teenage daughter in Texas. Directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, the film was inspired by Peoples’ own upbringing in Fort Worth, Texas, where Juneteenth was celebrated with parades, blues music and the Miss Juneteenth Pageant.
- Black-ish Season 4 Episode 1: “Juneteenth” (2017) is a significant installment of television that teaches the history of Juneteenth in a 22-minute sitcom episode. When Dre and Bow decide that their whole family will celebrate the day, they realize their children are unfamiliar with Juneteenth, which is not uncommon for many Black and non-Black Americans since the holiday is so under-taught.
Beyond the cookouts with loved ones and the festivals in a summer sun, family-friendly activities can be a great way to serve up some joy for Jubilee Day. You may even be inspired to start some new traditions of your own.
- Read a book together and have a discussion afterward.
- Make a Happy Juneteenth yard or window sign.
- Have a Juneteenth painting party.
- Encourage children to write a poem or story about Juneteenth.
- Create a Juneteenth banner to display in your home.
- Make your own “Freedom” box or jar and fill it with inspiring quotes.
- Design a freedom quilt with colorful paper or fabric.
- Learn about the Juneteenth flag and then download this coloring page the kids can enjoy.
Start a collaborative Juneteenth playlist. Need some ideas? Here are a few song recommendations to get you started:
- “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson
- “Before I Let Go” by Maze
- “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke
- “Respect” by Aretha Franklin
- “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye
- “Freedom” by Jon Batiste
“After getting more involved in Juneteenth celebrations in the last few years, my family has really embraced it. The overall media coverage over the last few years has really put it on my family’s radar, as we love an excuse to get together, barbecue, and embrace our Blackness. It’s become my sister’s favorite holiday, so it feels like a reclamation. She loves going to local block parties that make her feel connected.”— Abby J.
Since the very first Juneteenth celebration, food has been an integral tradition at the center of it all. From soul-stirring staples like collard greens and baked mac ‘n’ cheese to foods rich in red and crimson, meant to honor the resiliency of Black people, every dish tells a story. Foods rooted in the symbol of prosperity, like black-eyed peas and beans, are also popular. If you’re looking to bring a few new dishes to the cookout this year (or find new takes on some old favorites), here are some recipes to try from Black chefs and food bloggers.
Cast Iron Buttermilk Fried Chicken | Black Southern Belle
This deliciously crispy main dish will leave your mouth watering and hungry for more. This classic is sure to be a fan favorite. Find the recipe here.
“Cookouts and BBQs were a huge way I celebrated Juneteenth growing up.” — Taylor B.
Jalapeño Cornbread Muffins | Chef Curl Ardee
This side is a winning combination of sweet with a touch of spicy. If you’re looking for a fresh take on the cornbread classic, you may want to give these a try! Find the recipe here.
Watermelon Kiwi Popsicles | A Girl Called Adri
With fewer than 5 ingredients, this kid-friendly summer treat is perfect to make with the little ones. With no added sugar, you’ll definitely want to add this vegan-friendly, gluten-free dessert to the list. Find the recipe here.
Looking for even more deliciousness? Use tools like Eat Okra to find Black restaurants and culinary events near you.
Without a doubt, the most powerful stories and memories are the ones we share among our family and friends. Within the history of Juneteenth, themes of resilience, freedom, joy and family abound. Here are a few ways to explore these themes with your loved ones.
Trace your family’s genealogy. Because of slavery, many African Americans struggle to trace their genealogy before emancipation came. Even so, a combination of family oral histories, documents and records made more available by online ancestry sites and DNA tests have let some Black people go back further than was once thought possible, revealing a proud, resilient and diverse history covering hundreds of years.
Share personal, powerful stories. Carve out dedicated time to share stories and experiences that bring Black history to life in a personal way. Whether it’s around the table or at the backyard BBQ, never miss an opportunity to learn about your family’s history. Use ongoing storytelling projects like StoryCorps to help inspire the kinds of questions you might ask.
Have a family BBQ or picnic. Whether you’re starting or continuing family traditions, time spent with loved ones is one of the best ways to celebrate everything that makes Juneteenth special. Sometimes a simple gathering with the people you love most, eating good food, playing games or exchanging stories is all you need.
“At one of our recent family reunions, we had our elders talk about their experiences growing up during the Civil Rights era, so that our children and their children’s children could hear firsthand accounts of their involvement in these history changing events.” — Casandra W.
It seems especially fitting that all Juneteenth celebrations fall on or around our summer solstice—the day when the sun shines the longest. It’s this light of hope we can all carry with us throughout the year, along with the knowledge that Juneteenth is the day freedom rang.
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