Image of Juneteenth Grove in Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation was placed into effect, legally freeing all enslaved individuals in the Confederate States. That day, Union soldiers across the country marched into Confederate towns and plantations across the south, freeing the enslaved individuals they passed. However, the enforcement of the Proclamation required the advance of Union troops, leaving the enslaved population of Texas, the westernmost state of the Confederacy, waiting to be freed. About two years later, on June 19th, 1865, 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, announcing to more than 25,000 enslaved African Americans that they were finally free. For the African Americans living in Galveston, Texas, the ringing of freedom could not have come any sooner. The day eventually came to be known as Juneteenth by the newly freed people of Texas and has continued to be celebrated ever since. It should be noted that slavery continued in Delaware and Kentucky until ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865.

In recognition of Juneteenth’s vital historical importance, the day was recently made an official New York State Public Holiday last year in 2020. As the first year of Juneteenth’s status as a state public holiday, countless events across New York City will be occurring to commemorate the day. Read to learn more about 10 ways to celebrate and honor Juneteenth this year.

1. Attend The 12th Annual Juneteenth NYC Festival

Black Lives Matter mural in Bed Stuy looking down Fulton Street
Black Lives Matter mural, initiative of Bed-Stuy Restoration Corp.

As a holiday commemorating the final declaration of the end of slavery, Juneteenth promotes unity and freedom for all across the world. Over the years, Black Americans have celebrated the holiday with food, dancing, and singing. To celebrate the American Black community through empowerment, health, wellness, education, and entertainment, head to the 12th Annual Juneteenth NYC Festival, taking place from June 18th to June 20th.

Entitled Rebirthing The Roots of Entrepreneurial Excellence, the 12th Annual Juneteenth NYC Festival will host several virtual and in-person events aimed at honoring the holiday’s rich legacy. Over the years, the Brooklyn communities of East New York and Brownsville have played integral parts in building up the Juneteenth Festival since it first began in 2009. The Festival hosted 5,000 individuals in person in 2019 and over 20,000 virtually in 2020. 

This year, the Festival will commence with a series of fully virtual programming entitled Health Day-Mind, Body & Soul. The day’s events will be aimed at helping to foster dialogue between participants and professional medical experts on the importance of health and wellness. Some of the panels will include conversations on topics such as cancer and diabetes as leading causes of death within the Black community, and feasible solutions such as cooking, practicing yoga, or engaging in holistic medicine practices.

On Saturday the Festival will continue with its next series of programming, entitled The Juneteenth Culture in the Arts Celebration. Taking place virtually and in-person at Herbert Von King Park, this day’s events will focus specifically on celebrating the Juneteenth holiday, with several performances by community dancers, singers, poets, and griot speakers lending their voices to the cause. 

Finally, on Sunday, the Festival will conclude with Youth Pomp, a set of virtual and in-person programming at Bed-Stuy Restoration Corp. intended to celebrate the work of young Black entrepreneurs aged 14-19. Each day’s events will take place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (with an end time of 3 p.m. instead on Sunday) and are free of charge, with pre-registration required online.