Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day—all these celebratory names call back to June 19, 1865 (aka Juneteenth), when the last enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas were told they were free. This liberating news came two months after the Civil War actually ended and two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that all slaves in Confederate states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
Over the years, Americans have honored the day in beautifully diverse ways from participating in Juneteenth parades to attending rodeos to making the journey down to Galveston with their families. But this year is remarkably different than years past. This year, Juneteenth falls amid unprecedented demonstrations and support for the Black Lives Matter movement following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton, Ahmaud Arbery, and multiple hangings.
Already, some employers have taken note of the current climate and designated Juneteenth a company holiday. New York moved to make it a state holiday, following in the footsteps of nearly every other state and the District of Columbia. (You can sign this petition to push Congress to recognize it as a national holiday)
I’ve never celebrated Juneteenth before. I didn’t learn what the day truly meant until a few years ago, but I’m so glad I did because I never liked the idea of celebrating July 4. This day makes me feel more connected to my ancestors, and honoring Juneteenth this year feels imperative. I’m going to spend the day calling my family and learning more about our rich history and how we built and fought for America even when it was fighting against us. I’m dedicating the day to signing petitions to demand justice for Black lives and defunding the police, researching which brands I consume that benefit from inhumane prison labor, and discovering more Black-owned businesses.
Here’s how other Black women are planning to spend the day.
I was looking forward to a huge celebration this year, but had to scale it back because of the pandemic.
“I’ve been hosting a Juneteenth celebration every year since I bought my house. It has been tough so far because it has always been a weekday. I was looking forward to a huge celebration this year, but had to scale it back because of the pandemic. I’m still having a small gathering where we’ll social distance and celebrate the 155th year of freedom. Hopefully next year, I’ll be able to do a huge Saturday event.” —Tristiaña Hinton, 31
It’s part of who I am.
“Virtual celebrations and a family BBQ. Celebrating Juneteenth is so important because it’s a part of who I am. I’m staying educated about my history and about where I came from, and passing it on, sankofa.” —Calissa, 22
I’m planning to watch Spike Lee’s new movie Da 5 Bloods on Netflix.
“I’m a first generation Haitian American. So my people historically celebrate our independence on the 1st of January. However, I’m planning to watch Spike Lee’s new movie Da 5 Bloods on Netflix and Channing Godfrey Peoples’ Miss Juneteenth, and will catch up on Issa Rae’s Insecure. I will turn to my fave anthology, Daughters of Africa for poems and essays. I’ve been walking daily (self-care is vital) with girltrek.org and listening to their #blackhistorybootcamp. They have a Spotify playlist called #daughtersof to coincide with each walk. So I will definitely be listening to that. That’s my goal as I stand in solidarity with my fellow Black Americans and celebrate Juneteenth.” —Wendy Abraham, 44
“I’m a book lover first, foremost, and always, and believe that indulging in Black joy, Black magic, and Black stories honor myself and our humanity.”
“I’ll be participating in #BLACKPUBLISHINGPOWER this Juneteenth, an initiative to change the face of historically racist bestseller lists by buying books from Black authors. I’m a book lover first, foremost, and always, and believe that indulging in Black joy, Black magic, and Black stories honor myself and our humanity. This is especially important right now, when we’re forced to prove we deserve to exist and be free while being inundated with fallacious reasons why we don’t. Our joy is revolutionary. It is an honor. And we deserve to be seen.” —Ashley Mitchell, 30
Black people need rest and self-care right now, too.
“I’ll be celebrating with an actual day of rest. With what’s been happening in our world, I’ve been working non-stop on top of protesting and so much emotional labor. But Black people need rest and self-care right now, too.” —Arianna Davis, 32
We settled on a “Driving” parade.
“Growing up, my family has always celebrated Juneteenth. Every year we would go back to our small hometown—Bastrop, Tex.—and have a huge parade and multiple days of BBQs, family reunions, and other various programming. With the recent times and with additional losses within the Black community, I wanted to really shed light on Juneteenth and use it as a catalyst for the local Black community to continue to look towards the future while never forgetting our past. I wanted to continue to celebrate one another and our culture.
“I own an events company called House Party Creative where I throw curated events for Black creatives to come together and have a good time. I started brainstorming with my friend Aliyah Thomas about what to do for this Juneteenth. With Covid-19 and everything, we wanted to make sure we created an experience that acknowledged the restrictions, but also allowed us to have a good time, so we settled on a ‘driving’ parade.
“We’re expecting 180 registered cars and our route begins in Inglewood, Calif. and ends in Leimert Park, where we’ll pass predominantly Black areas and well-known Black businesses in South Central L.A.
“Celebrating Black lives, present, past, and future will now not only be a one-week thing, or only in February. It will be every single day and we will keep fighting for our names to be remembered and our stories to be told whole-heartedly forever.” —Tylynn Burns, 25
I am celebrating every bit of my Blackness
I’m hoping the Juneteenth parade will highlight the achievements rather than the trauma.
“My friend is throwing a Juneteenth parade/ party where we’ll drive through significant landmarks in Inglewood, a historical Black neighborhood in Los Angeles. I’m hoping there will be a mix of drinks, soul food, and learning about Black history in LA.
“The topic of Black history oftentimes goes to a pretty dark place, so I’m hoping the Juneteenth parade will highlight the achievements rather than the trauma: visiting thriving Black businesses, learning about Inglewood and its roots, and learning about how the neighborhood has been able to resist gentrification in such a prime location. I’m hoping it’ll let me pretend I’m living out my dream of being in an episode of Insecure.
“It’s weird because I’ve never observed Juneteenth, and as a Black person, I hadn’t heard of it until college. They don’t teach you about Black celebrations in school unless it heroes a ‘white savior.’ I think the country’s at a turning point where we’re finally addressing the very ugly truth of systemic inequality, and for Black people it hasn’t been easy to watch these tragedies unfold. But the celebration of Juneteenth is sort of giving us permission to feel Black joy in the midst of a racial pandemic, and I’m definitely looking forward to that. This Juneteenth is definitely a first for me, but it surely won’t be my last.” —Taylor Whitelow, 22
I am going to get my hair braided on Juneteenth.
“Something that marks this year’s celebration as different for me is that I am going to get my hair braided on Juneteenth. This is a sentimental experience for me because I used to do this style often when I was a little girl. However, for the past 10 years, I have been straightening my hair. I’m really excited to go back to my roots and celebrate my culture with a hairstyle that is uniquely ours.” —Sierra Mayhew, 23
Because of COVID-19 I’ll have to try something new.
“Usually I’d be at a festival or a barbecue, but because of COVID-19 I’ll have to try something new. I’ll likely continue on with my latest read, How to be an Antiracist, devote some time to some self care, and maybe pick up some barbecue from a local black-owned restaurant.” —Bailey, 29
Simply celebrating being proud to be Black.
“I will be celebrating with listening to all Black artists music and spending time with my friends and eating good food. Simply celebrating being proud to be Black.” —Taylor Martin, 25
I’m going to use Juneteenth as a day to unapologetically celebrate my Blackness.
“Celebrating Juneteenth is more important to me now more than ever. I’m going to use Juneteenth as a day to unapologetically celebrate my Blackness by blowing out my fro so she can stretch to her full potential, ordering food from my favorite Black-owned restaurant, dancing to my favorite music, and ending the day by taking a walk around my Harlem neighborhood to see how my community is celebrating.” —Temi Oyelola, 26
Additional reporting by Jessica Goodman.
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