Great Ideas for Celebrating Juneteenth
Juneteenth commemorates an important part of American history and on June 17, 2021 President Biden declared it a federal holiday. Learn more about various ways to celebrate Juneteenth.
Like many Americans, Bianca Alexander didn’t grow up learning a lot about Juneteenth in school. The Emmy award-winning TV correspondent and host of the PBS show Conscious Living says she’s more aware of the holiday as an adult and would like to see Juneteenth embraced as an important part of American history.
But thankfully, awareness of Juneteenth (a combination of “June” and “nineteenth”) is starting to grow.
What Is Juneteenth?
The holiday is a recognition of the official emancipation of the last enslaved people. The Emancipation Proclamation declared that on Jan. 1, 1863, that “all persons held as slaves” were free, but it would be more than two years before the news reached Texas. On June 19, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the emancipation of all enslaved people. Today, Black Americans continue the tradition of commemorating Juneteenth every June 19 with celebrations that honor their ancestors and reflect on the ongoing fight for freedom in America.
The Significance of Juneteenth
Alexander told HGTV, “As an African-American descendant of slaves (my great-great-grandparents were legally someone else’s property), I realize freedom is precious and should never be taken for granted. As a Black woman, I’m grateful to be free — knowing the enormous price my ancestors paid for that freedom.”
Alexander isn’t alone in her recent discovery of Juneteenth. Brenda O’Neale is a travel expert and an advisory board member of the Association of Black Travel Professionals, an organization that promotes the growth and development of Black travel professionals. O’Neale learned about Juneteenth in 2013 and considers the holiday a time to gather with family, celebrate with food and teach the next generation about this important holiday.
“I’ve recently relocated to Charlotte, and this year I’ll attend the Queen City Juneteenth Festival. The 2021 festival has the theme of 'Educating, Empowering, Entertaining,' and the festival features kids’ activities, vendors, and giveaways. I’ll spend this year’s celebration with my 10-year-old grandson and my 5-year-old granddaughter as it is important for them to know their history,” says O’Neale.
Gregory Brown and Naijha Wright-Brown say the holiday is important to them because it celebrates freedom and also represents a turn from struggle into progress. The husband and wife own The Land of Kush, a vegan soul food restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland, that has served the likes of Stevie Wonder and Angela Davis.
“I first learned about Juneteenth in college, and I never processed its importance until later in my adult life," says Gregory.
"I never grew up celebrating Juneteenth. It really wasn’t a thing, but that happens with time. We sometimes lose track of our history and victories as generations pass, then rediscover it with younger generations. I am very happy to see its resurgence over the past few years.”
Naijha says that the history books she read in class never mentioned Juneteenth, but she learned about it when she and her husband relocated to Baltimore. She credits the city’s Black population for her discovery of the holiday, and the couple plans to celebrate this year by participating in Baltimore’s BMore Free Juneteenth celebration.
Traditional Juneteenth Fare
Though the holiday is based on a serious injustice, Juneteenth celebrations are full of joy and life, and food is an integral part of the day. Traditional Juneteenth celebrations include fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread, which are staples of Southern cuisine.
And while Alexander is a personal wellness advocate and follows a vegan, plant-based diet, she still finds ways to celebrate Juneteenth with iterations of Southern-style food.
“Juneteenth should be about celebrating our victories, so I’ll be indulging in vegan soul food at my favorite Black-owned restaurant in Los Angeles, Compton Vegan,” Alexander says. “They serve soul food, but in a healthier, plant-based way: jackfruit ribs, buffalo chicken mac and cheese, greens, and of course, cornbread.”
Celebrate by Supporting Black Businesses
For non-Black Americans, Juneteenth can be a time of listening, learning and supporting. Alexander said that people outside of the Black community can show their support by educating themselves and supporting Black-owned businesses.
“Get curious. Talk about it with those in and outside of your race. Educate yourself. Teach your kids about the history of slavery that built the very fabric of the United States and the ongoing systemic oppression still happening today. Support a Black-owned business, whether a restaurant or on Etsy. Also, ask those in your community how you can support more diversity, equity and inclusion.”
“Juneteenth not only marks the end of slavery in the United States, but it also symbolizes freedom and has become a day for African Americans to celebrate their freedom, culture and achievements," says O’Neale. "The day should be used to educate ourselves, challenge our perspectives, recognize the plight of being Black in America and further opportunities to support Black-owned businesses. It is a day for all Americans to celebrate African American history.”