In June of 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. However, Juneteenth’s history goes back over 150 years. 

The History of Juneteenth

Also called Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of African Americans who were enslaved by the United States. Although the emancipation proclamation was signed almost two and a half years earlier, the news of this important decision didn’t reach Texas until June 19th, 1865. Now, Juneteenth is celebrated annually on June 19th and has become a time for celebration. National interest in Juneteenth grew in 2020, as the Black Lives Matter movement led protests across the country in response to police violence against black Americans. 

In the early days of Juneteenth celebrations, black families would travel to Galveston, Texas as an annual pilgrimage. In 1865, the Union general arrived in Galveston to announce the conclusion of the Civil War and freedom of all slaves. Today, some families celebrate by hosting gatherings and preparing food, but larger cities such as Atlanta and Washington hold large events such as parades and festivals. Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a holiday in 1980. The House of Representatives passed a bill to make Juneteenth a nationwide holiday and it was signed into a law on June 17, 2021.  

Celebrating Juneteenth in NYC

Juneteenth is a joyous holiday and there will be many exciting events in NYC from June 16th through June 19th. These events also give attendees great opportunities to learn about black history and culture. Here are some events that are free to attend:

  1. The Lincoln Center will host two events for Juneteenth on June 18th. “To a Garden Luxuriously Verdant (Enameled with Countless Flowerings)” begins at 7pm with a multi-genre, full campus Juneteenth celebration. Their Juneteenth dance party begins at 9pm and is a silent disco of reimagined gospel music by DJ Rimarkable.
  2. Juneteenth at Seneca Village begins at 10am on Saturday, June 17th offers an opportunity to not only consider the origins and meaning of this day, but to reflect on Seneca Village, a predominately African-American community that existed before New York City created Central Park and long before we celebrated Juneteenth. This event is family friendly and activities include crafts, dance and yoga. 
  3. The Juneteenth Food Festival takes place at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn on June 17th and 18th and is hosted by Black-Owned Brooklyn. Dine around from 29 Black food vendors offering African American fare traditional to the holiday, as well as flavors from regions of Africa and the Caribbean.
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