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The Pursuit for Freedom and Justice—Why We Celebrate Juneteenth

Juneteenth, often called Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is an annual holiday on June 19th that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

Issued as an executive order by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery across Confederate areas during the Civil War. Although ordered by decree, the news of freedom took time to reach all enslaved peoples, especially those in the most western Confederate state of Texas.

Two years later, on June 19, 1865, Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and several troops made the trek to Galveston, Texas – a previously Confederate-controlled territory – to announce that 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Texas were officially free.

The following year on June 19, 1866, the first Juneteenth celebration was held in Galveston as a small event for African American communities to celebrate their freedom.


Early Juneteenth celebrations in Texas consisted of several festivities, including prayer groups, family gatherings, and a pilgrimage to Galveston to reflect on the past. Due to racial tensions and resistance, celebrations often took place in African American churches and rural areas such as near rivers and creeks. Although most of these activities seem common, these early celebrations served as a form of empowerment for people who thought these things unimaginable during enslavement.

As the celebration of Juneteenth began to expand to neighboring cities in Texas, several Houston businessmen and ministers, recognizing the need to provide a safe space for African Americans, purchased ten acres of land to establish Emancipation Park in 1872, where they hosted the annual holiday.

More than 150 years later, Juneteenth is now a federal holiday—passed on June 17, 2021—celebrated by communities across the U.S., with festivals and parades in cities like Atlanta and Washington, D.C., to reflect and recognize the historical pursuit of equality and justice for African Americans.


  • Juneteenth is the oldest holiday that commemorates the abolishment of slavery in the U.S.

  • Juneteenth has been the subject of several books by authors Ralph Ellison, Carolyn Meyer, and Ann Rinaldi.

  • Every June, the Miss Juneteenth Pageant takes place in Mobile, Alabama, for young girls ages 13-18.

  • Strawberry soda pop was once a popular drink associated with celebrating the day due to the red color symbolizing strength, life, and death in West African culture.

  • In 1997, Ben Haith—founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation—created the Juneteenth Flag with help from Graphic Illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf. The flag was revised in 2000.

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