In the pantheon of American holidays, Juneteenth is unique. The anniversary of the day when slavery officially ended in the United States, it’s been celebrated by members of the African American community since the late 1800s. But mainstream America has only really become aware of it in recent years.

The holiday’s name is a portmanteau that combines the month and day of its date, June and 19th, and has also been called “Freedom Day,” and “Emancipation Day.”

State governments began recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday in the 1980s, but a majority of them didn’t follow suit until the 2000s. The culture shift for racial justice in the US in recent years has fueled a broader recognition of the holiday, inspiring many local governments and private companies to support it and bring it even further into the mainstream. And in 2021, it was made a Federal Holiday.

Traditionally, Juneteenth is a holiday that’s marked with private and family gatherings, but there have been public celebrations throughout its history. And while many larger and publicly organized Juneteenth celebrations are relatively new, there are plenty of American cities with historic Juneteenth celebrations.

Here are just some of the places in America with a history of celebrating Juneteenth and that are continuing to this day.

Galveston, Texas

The coastal city of Galveston is an essential part of Juneteenth. It’s where, on June 19th, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger landed with a troop of Union soldiers and announced that the American Civil War had ended and that all slaves were effectively free. It had been more than two years since President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation and over two months after the Confederate surrender at the Battle of Appomattox Court House, but there’d been a lack of Union soldiers in the Deep South until then.

Over the years, the celebration of Granger’s arrival and effective declaration of freedom became an annual tradition and grew more popular. Formerly enslaved Americans would celebrate through prayer and family gatherings. And some would even make a pilgrimage with the family members and descendants to celebrate in Galveston.

Today, Galveston’s annual Juneteenth celebration usually consists of several days’ worth of events, usually taking place on the weekend closest to June 19th. In recent years, there have been festivals, historical reenactments, live musical performances, exhibits on African American heritage, picnics, and parades. One highlight over the years has been the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in front of Galveston’s Juneteenth marker.

Houston, Texas

Located just over 50 miles from Galveston, the city of Houston and surrounding communities have been major areas of support for the Juneteenth holiday from the start. In 1872, a group of African American community leaders bought 10 acres of land and turned it into Emancipation Park, which was originally meant as a place for Houston’s annual Juneteenth celebration and is now a local community fixture.

The Houston area has an abundance of Juneteenth celebrations every year that are worth any cheap one way flights to get there.  The annual revelry at Emancipation Park, which includes live music, food, and family-friendly events, draws thousands of attendees from all over the country.  Other parks throughout the Houston area also often host concerts and live music events throughout the Juneteenth weekend. There’s also a focus on history, with events organized by Buffalo Soldiers National Museum and the Heritage Society. More recent years have included a parade organized by the mayor’s office. 

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Minneapolis, Minnesota

Juneteenth celebrations began to decline in the early 20th century. While the holiday carried on in places like Galveston and Houston, it didn’t in other parts of the US — likely due to economic struggles and cultural oppression of African American communities. However, during and immediately after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, Juneteenth celebrations began to pick up again.

Minneapolis is one place where Juneteenth festivities experienced a revival during the Civil Rights era. The area has been known to see a series of different events each year, organized by both the local government and private groups. Events are usually spread throughout the entire week of Juneteenth, and in previous years have ranged from a historical reenactment of the Underground Railroad to library-sponsored story strolls. The week typically caps off with tons of live music events and block parties, often with kid-friendly and educational activities, and incredible food. 

San Francisco, California

San Francisco’s first annual Juneteenth Celebration was held in 1950 in the city’s Fillmore District and that’s where it can still be found today. The all-day event draws thousands of people every year and usually features a parade, carnival games, classic car show, traditional African Uhuru village, live music and dance performances, and lots of great food. 

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee’s first publicly organized Juneteenth celebration was in 1971. It’s continued on to today and is now one of the biggest Juneteenth celebrations in the country. Unlike many other celebrations in other parts of the US, Milwaukee’s Juneteenth celebration is always on June 19th — no matter what the day of the week it is. A full day event, starting at 9 a.m. and running until well past sunset, it usually kicks off with a parade down King Drive, followed by a Miss Juneteenth Pageant. African dance and musical performances happen throughout the day, along with exhibits, games, children’s activities, and more.  

Buffalo, New York

Created to give a “culturally relevant alternative” to the then US Bicentennial Celebration, the Juneteenth Festival of Buffalo was started in 1976 by a community-based organization called B.U.I.L.D. A blocked off section of Jefferson Avenue, a main thoroughfare for the city’s Black community, was used for a weekend celebration with mural painting, booths for food vendors and merchandise, entertainment, and a festive mood. The festival grew each year since and eventually moved to Martin Luther King Jr. Park. It’s now organized by a non-profit group, staffed by mostly volunteers, with a mission to “actively preserve and promote the broad spectrum of African American Heritage through educational and cultural activities that will benefit the community as a whole.”

Do you know of any other American cities with historic Juneteenth celebrations that we didn’t mention? Tell us about it in the comments below!  

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About The Author

Dave Odegard is an ex-army brat turned internet word person, whose work has been published on Maxim Online, USAToday, Buzzfeed, and more. He is currently the Senior Content Writer at Fareportal (CheapOair's parent company) and spends his free time exploring the wilds of Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Sweden.