For 156 years, African Americans have commemorated the abolition of slavery each year on June 19, also known as Juneteenth. Thanks to activists like Ms. Opal Lee, “the Grandmother of Juneteenth,” who brought awareness of the occasion to the White House, it became a federal holiday in 2021. However, many are unaware of the event’s history or the significance it holds within Black communities.
In 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared "all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "shall be free." But this proclamation did not take effect in the confederate state of Texas until June 19, 1865, when army troops arrived in Galveston announcing to more than 250,000 enslaved Blacks that they were in fact free by executive decree.
Since then, Juneteenth has taken on different names and has been celebrated in many forms. Initially, Juneteenth was referred to as a “jubilee.” Over the years, it also has been known as Black Independence Day or Freedom Day. Early celebrations of Juneteenth involved prayer, family gatherings, and pilgrimages to Galveston by former enslaved people and their families. Celebrations have continued to evolve into cookouts, parades, and parties.
No matter how you celebrate Juneteenth this year, it is important to remember what it means for the Black community as we build awareness and keep it alive while looking toward a more joyful future. AARP honors and celebrates Juneteenth with local events across the nation, including Journey to Juneteenth: A Road to Black Health or the Juneteenth 5K Freedom Run.
Visit AARP Events to find a Juneteenth event in your community, and an array of local and online events.
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