Happy Juneteenth, folks! Today marks the 150th anniversary of the day slavery officially ended in the United States—and that’s some serious cause to celebrate, am I right?
In case you don’t know the story, on June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas with a troop of Union soldiers, announcing that the Civil War had ended and all slaves were effectively free.
But wait—didn’t President Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation take care of that back in 1863? Not quite. While he did pronounce all slaves to be free two and half years before General Granger landed in Galveston, the lack of Union soldiers available in the Deep South to enforce the order rendered it largely ineffective. As a result, June 19—the day of Granger’s more effective declaration of freedom—is commemorated as the official day slaves across the South were set free.
While things were far from perfect for African-Americans during Reconstruction—and even still, today—the formal end of slavery was and continues to be an enthusiastically celebrated event. Every June 19, black communities across the U.S. gather together to commemorate this historic day—and we know just where you should go to join in the festivities.
1.) Galveston, Texas
As the place where it all began, it’s only natural that the Juneteenth celebration in Galveston is arguably the most epic in the country. Texas declared Juneteenth an official state holiday back in 1980—dubbing it with the more formal title of Emancipation Day—and this year, to commemorate the 150th anniversary, Galveston is seriously going all out.
The city will celebrate for several days, hosting events that range from festivals, historical reenactments, live musical performances, African-American heritage exhibits, and picnics. Even though you can party it up throughout the week and into the following weekend, make sure you’re around for actual June 19th. You’ll be able to catch the annual reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in front of Galveston’s Juneteenth monument—a moving event you definitely shouldn’t miss.
In the early 20th century, Juneteenth celebrations began to decline, due to economic struggles and cultural pressures that disproportionately affected the African-American community. However, during and immediately after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, Juneteenth celebrations began to pick up again.
Milwaukee is one location where Juneteenth festivities really came alive with the Civil Rights Movement, and it continues to host one of the biggest celebrations in the country today. A full day event, starting at 9 a.m. and running until well past sunset, Juneteenth in Milwaukee kicks off with a parade down King Drive, followed by a Miss Juneteenth Pageant. African dance and musical performances will happen throughout the day, along with exhibits, games, children’s activities, and more. Plus, you really can’t beat the soul food that’ll be served up in this Midwestern city. Eat your heart out, folks.
Another city whose Juneteenth celebrations picked up during the Civil Rights Movement, Minneapolis hosts an incredible series of events each year. Starting a full week before Juneteenth, the Twin Cities begin the commemoration with a historical reenactment of the Underground Railroad. Participants embark on an overnight trip that simulates the dangerous realities of slaves’ journey to freedom.
The following weekend, Juneteenth celebrations start a day late, on Saturday, June 20th—so don’t show up on Friday expecting a party! The day kicks off with a free continental breakfast at North Mississippi Regional Park, and continues over at the library, where storytellers weave tales to bring Juneteenth alive. You’ll also be able to check out books that give more history and background on the day, as they’ll be featured prominently around the library.
If you want even more education, head over to the African American Virtual Museum, and finish your day at the grand Twin Cities Juneteenth Celebration, which will feature tons of live music, fun activities, and incredible food.
If you’re on the East coast, Brooklyn’s annual Juneteenth festival is where you want to be. Hosted at Cuyler Gore Park in the borough’s Fort Greene neighborhood, Brooklyn’s celebration is one of the most exciting you’ll find. Its activities include the usual African dance and musical performances—as well as delicious food, obviously—but the awesomeness doesn’t stop there.
During the all-day celebration, there are also stilt walkers, swing dancing, spoken word performances, gospel mimes, underground railroad tours, a fashion show, and a disco dance party. No sleep ‘til Brooklyn, am I right?
If you’re more of a West-Coast-Best-Coast type of person, head up to NoCal for San Francisco’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Held in Fillmore Plaza, ‘Frisco’s Juneteenth festival lasts from dawn ‘til dusk, and features a parade, plus all the live music and dance performances your heart could ever desire. Once you’ve danced a few holes in your shoes, check out the circus performance that closes out the evening before—you guessed it—even more dancing happens with the ultimate disco party.
Where will you be celebrating Juneteenth this year? Let us know in the comments!